#students | #parents | D.C. area schools to tackle student safety, achievement gap

School starts Monday in D.C. and Fairfax County, and officials are gearing up to tackle issues such as closing the achievement gap, updating curricula and facilities, and ensuring kids feel safe.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said the District is approaching the achievement gap issue holistically through its new Connected Schools program.

“So we know that we can help students better achieve when their families have stable housing, when they have access to great health care, when families know how to connect with the social services that are abundant in our city,” Miss Bowser said at a press conference this week.

The interagency program will deliver services to schools such as job training, housing and financial assistance, and parenting classes to some of the District’s more than 47,000 students. Ten schools will first implement the program.

D.C. school board member Frazier O’Leary said he is looking forward to the opening of two new schools in Ward 4 — Ida B. Wells Middle School and Calvin Coolidge High School.

“All the high schools have been created or renovated in the last 10 years,” said Mr. O’Leary, who represents Ward 4 on the school board.

Several schools have new principals and the school board is considering a teacher survey to explore the District’s low teacher retention rate, he added.

Meanwhile, Miss Bowser said D.C. Public Schools are not interested in the immigration status of students, as her administration battles the federal government over plans to create a 200-bed temporary shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children in the District.

“If you live in Washington, D.C., you are entitled to public education and you are entitled to government services and we want to make sure that every family knows that,” the Democratic mayor said.

And schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee noted that many D.C. schools support groups for LGBTQ students.

“So we want to ensure that all of our students, when they are on our campus know that they are going to be loved, supported and nurtured and that’s something that I know that all of our school leaders and their staff have embodied,” Mr. Ferebee said at a press conference this week.

However, unvaccinated students can be excluded from schools, under D.C. law. The Office of State Superintendent of Education is working to ensure that families know where they can get vaccinations and is following up with schools with low compliance rates.

“We know that making sure our students are fully supported in their health in wellness is critical to their success in school, and immunization is important for that,” said Superintendent Hanseul Kang.

Across the Potomac River in Fairfax County, teachers will begin implementing the Standards of Learning for computer science for the county’s more than 189,000 students — making Virginia the first state in the country to employ such standards, said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

What’s more, 99% of Virginia’s school divisions can access the internet at considerable speeds, compared to only 46% in 2015, Mr. Pyle noted.

Donna Michaelis, division director of the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, pointed out that the student victimization rate in public schools has declined by 70% since the 1990s.

Last year, Virginia schools reported 14,869 threats, including words and behavior, she said, adding that 99.7% of them were averted with intervention.

“This speaks to how close the school supervision and law enforcement are working together to put a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the schools,” Ms. Michaelis said.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering training standards for school resource officers and a study on barricade structures in schools. State law requires that schools have four lockdown drills and 10 fire or evacuation drills a year.

Like those in the District, Fairfax County schools are not allowed to inquire about students’ immigration status and cannot reject students because of their status.

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