Suzanne Wells Testimony – DC Council – Public Roundtable on DCPS Return to In-Person Instruction – Dec 2, 2020

Committee of the Whole
Committee on Education
Joint Oversight Roundtable on Return to In-person Instruction in DC Public Schools
December 2, 2020

My name is Suzanne Wells.  I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization. 

I think it is fair to say we all want teachers and students to be back in school.  Students have experienced learning losses; on-line teaching particularly in the younger grades, for students with special education needs and English Language Learners is especially challenging; parents who are fortunate to have jobs are stretched thin juggling child care and work; and many families find themselves just struggling to survive.

But the coronavirus is keeping us from having what we want.  This past Saturday, the District reported more new coronavirus cases in a single day than any day since the start of this global pandemic.  The DC Council is working from home and holding on-line hearings because it is not deemed safe to be in the Wilson building.  Dr. Fauci has told us to “hang in there a bit longer” until vaccines become available.  It seems to me that no matter how difficult this time is, we want to protect the lives of as many people as possible.  It is unfathomable that over a quarter of a million people have died in the past eight months from covid-19, and we don’t want opening schools to result in additional deaths.

We’ve been resilient these past eight months, and that resilience combined with determination and hope has given us an opportunity to do things differently, and in some cases do things better.  There are some things that are working well that should be encouraged:

  1. Some promising “Learning Hubs” have been started at public housing units.  GOODProjects is running a Learning Hub at the Greenleaf Garden Apartments, and Little Lights is running Learning Hubs at Potomac Gardens, Hopkins, and Benning Terrace public housing units.  These learning hubs are operating similar to CARES classrooms where students are getting help with their on-line instruction.  Students don’t have to travel far to these learning hubs, and risk coming in contact with the coronavirus.  These are the exact students we fear are suffering significant learning losses.  I strongly encourage DCPS and the City to see if there are additional opportunities to start learning hubs at homeless shelters and other public housing units.
  2. Facilitating as many outdoor learning opportunities as possible.  Many of the Student Support Centers that principals and their school communities had planned to begin in October supported learning outdoors while minimizing the risk of contracting covid-19.  DCPS should be encouraging as many of these outdoor opportunities as possible.
  3. Strengthening online learning, and plan now for computer acquisitions needed for next school year.  Our organization is firmly behind all of the recommendations made by Digital Equity in DC Education.

In closing, one thing that DCPS has not done well is collaboratively planning with principals, teachers, students, parents, and community based organizations.  The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to planning simply haven’t worked.  DCPS needs to genuinely involve their key stakeholders in any effort to return to in-person learning. 

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