Testimony of Danica Petroshius
Hearing on Transparency
June 26, 2019
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am Danica Petroshius, parent of two children at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (CHML).
I strongly support the At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 and have attached specific ideas for strengthening it. I also support the School-Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act and the Public School Transparency Amendment At of 2019. Together, all of these bills will move us a step closer to transparency in our education system.
Today I testify on behalf of the over 300 parents and community members who signed a letter asking for transparency around sexual abuse – and some of those parents are here with me today.
Almost everything I have had to testify about over the past 8 years as a parent in DCPS has boiled down to lack of transparency: hiding data on lead in the water, hiding data on crumbling school assessments, preventing parents access to basic meetings and activities; lack of equity in access to FOIA and opaque budgeting practices.
But the bottom fell out of transparency 2 weeks ago. On June 8th, we at CHML were told that an employee of Springboard was removed for misconduct. On June 10th we were told by email that “no Springboard student was involved.” Only on June 11th – when WAMU broke the story – did we find out a student minor at our school was the victim of sexual abuse. And, we found out that Springboard ran programs in 21 sites across DC and had no record of its background checks and was therefore in breach of contract. On June 14, Fox 5 let us know that there was a second allegation against the same person.
For parents, panic and fear set in; we hugged our children and we consoled each other.
We asked city leaders for answers to what happened, why communication failed and what policies are in place to protect students.
We began to research and found out:
- There are at least 13 charter and DCPS schools with serious sexual assault cases since November 2014 – this is not a one-off, this is a system problem
- There is no one system-wide safety policy for all kids in every district in DC
- There is no centralized data system for tracking background checks across systems
- There is no regular monitoring and compliance to ensure the safety of students
- We wrote a letter to city leaders on June 12 asking for answers to our questions
- We shared our research and questions in addition to policy solutions (you have all of this in attachments)
The response from the city completely lacks transparency, urgency and care.
- There has been no answer to our letter to city leaders, only vague emails that only lead to more questions (I have annotated those emails in the attachments)
- We have had no action from Council to demand answers on our specific situation, no call for a hearing, no response to our recommended solutions beyond the School Safety Act
- This year Council did start to improve systems through the School Safety Act which asks districts to implement policies and trainings over the next 2 years, and for OSSE to provide models. Two years is too long to wait.
- The School Safety Act is a start, but it does not improve and expand data collection and reporting; it does not centralize reporting, monitoring and compliance; it does not ensure all children have the same level of protections; and it does not mandate a full review of our system to ensure our city agencies implement the gold standard for protecting students.
- There are pending DCPS FOIAs because there is no transparency. Yet parents in charter schools where Springboard operated cannot FOIA their districts because we have no law to protect those students when transparency fails.
The system of transparency and accountability is broken. We should not have to write letters, testify and go to the media to get answers on the most fundamental policy of protecting the safety of our children. We cannot move to the real work of teaching and learning if we aren’t first and fundamentally doing all we can to protect our youth.
We must move the bills being considered forward. In addition, we also must act urgently to implement full transparency in our education system – there is no time to lose.
If our education system, led by the Mayor, embraced transparency then
- our communities would understand as soon as the MPD investigation allowed, what happened and how our children were protected
- it would be easy to find the policies and practices in place to protect our children
- every child would be fully protected in the same way in every school regardless of being in DCPS or a charter school, and every parent would have the same access to protections to get key information about their children through FOIA
- would be easy to maintain, track and upkeep records of all safety procedures in one centralized location so every parent – regardless of school or sector – can be sure their children are safe.
If our education leaders embraced transparency, we would have trust.
Please work with us to achieve full transparency for all children.
Supplemental documents, recommendations research, timelines: