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Suzanne Wells Testimony – SBOE Meeting on Reopening of DC Public Schools

DC State Board of Education

Public Meeting

October 20, 2020

Re-opening of Schools

My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization. Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening about the plans to re-open the DCPS. The State Board of Education is the only elected body that has welcomed public comment on the reopening plans, and for than I am grateful.

DCPS recently announced their plans to proceed with a limited reopening of its schools on November 9.  This plan was developed with little to no input from teachers and parents, and that is its major problem.  Had DCPS worked collaboratively with teachers and parents on the reopening plan, I can assure you the plan would look very different from what it currently looks like.

The Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization recently put out an open letter asking parents to share their questions and comments about reopening.  Attached to my testimony are the questions and comments we’ve received to date.

As would be expected, there are many questions about the safety of the schools.  Questions about ventilation, disinfecting surfaces, sanitizing bathrooms, etc.  Nobody wants to return to school if it isn’t safe, and there is a chance of contacting Covid-19. I suspect there will be answers to these questions though many parents are suspicious.  Many schools, especially in wards 5, 6, 7 and 8, still haven’t haven’t had full renovations, and don’t have modern ventilation systems.  Especially at these un-renovated schools, how will they be made safe?

The DCPS reopening plan doesn’t address how we will ensure students and teachers who are sick will not enter the schools.  There are no temperature checks when you enter a school building.  There are no plans for covid testing.  There are no plans for contact tracing.  Not all schools will have nurses.  It seems that basic, common-sense precautions to protect teachers and students have not even been considered in the reopening plan.

The DCPS reopening plan is a uniform plan that is being applied to a wide diversity of situations.  When DCPS announced the start of Student Support Centers in October, these plans were developed by principals who had an understanding of their school communities and needs.  The Student Support Centers were taking incremental steps to reopening.  Some were offering in-person recess to support the social emotional development of its youngest students.  Others were offering outdoor learning activities for their special education students.  The schools developed their Student Support Center plans to reach their students who most needed in-person instruction, and were doing it in safe ways.  DCPS could have expanded the number of schools offering Student Support Centers, and evaluated them for what could be learned, but instead announced its uniform reopening plan.

What might be most troubling about the plan is that they didn’t involve the very families who are expected to send their child for in-person instruction.  They didn’t ask these families if in-person instruction is what would best meet their family’s needs.  I am hearing anecdotal reports that some of the families identified for in-person instruction don’t feel safe sending their child to in-person school. 

What surprised me the most in the answers we got is how many parents were concerned that the reopening plan would disrupt the online learning currently occurring.  Many felt their teachers had done a very good job engaging their class in the on-line learning, and they feared that teachers might be pulled from on-line learning to support in-person instruction, and that the class sizes could increase placing great burdens on teachers.

It’s shameful that so much time and energy has been spent developing a plan that is devoid of parent and teacher voice.  Only when DCPS brings its key stakeholders to the table to help it create a reopen plan will we have a plan that meets teacher and family needs.

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