Meshaun Pratt – DC Council – Public Roundtable on DCPS Return to In-Person Instruction – Dec 2, 2020

Testimony to the Committee of the Whole & Committee on Education 
Public Oversight Roundtable  on 
Return to In-person Instruction in DC Public Schools
Meshaun Pratt
YWP Youth Advocate
12.2.20

Greetings Councilmembers. My name is Meshaun Pratt and I am a senior at School Without Walls. I am a Ward 8 resident and I plan to pursue a career in Nursing. I am also a Youth Advocate with the Young Women’s Project (YWP). YWP is a DC nonprofit that builds the leadership and power of young people so that they can transform DC institutions to expand rights and opportunities for DC youth. I am here today to share my experiences with distance learning and my thoughts on the reopening of schools. Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences and thoughts today.

When distance learning was first put into action and made the mandatory way for school, my mother’s first thought was having stable access to the internet to ensure I would be able to get online. Fortunately, I am blessed enough to have a working computer, printer, and scanner at home already. However, because of where I live and the type of internet we can afford, this was the only challenge I had to face. The internet constantly would stop working (it’s worse when it rains) and would take forever for it to work again. Because of this, we have to use the hotspots on our phones that increases my mother’s bill. It is really a game of Russian roulette every day I get online for school.

I feel as though learning online has its advantages along with its disadvantages. For one, we do not have to get up as early as we used to! Plus, it’s less paper and in-hand materials to keep up with which can sometimes be stressful when unorganized. But, distance learning also poses a few difficulties too. This is my first year at School Without Walls and I have entered as a senior, which is not easy or common. Mostly all my classmates knows each other so being “the new kid” has been difficult but nothing that I can’t handle.

One thing I personally love about my school is that they are extremely communicative. They send out weekly emails about news, mental health checks, and still incorporate different clubs despite the pandemic. They are big on “demanding your education” which means to advocate for yourself when you need help. Some teachers check in with us and make sure we see our grades or what assignments we need to turn in. All of this positive communication keeps me up to speed on what’s happening in my school.

When it comes to the decision of whether or when we should return to school there is a lot to consider. Right now I oppose having us return to the classroom this year.  I first heard about the decision on DCPS’ twitter page and it automatically raised some concerns for me. I understand that schools want to be considerate of families with young children but these kids are still prone to the virus. Having those children all around each other especially when they don’t understand the depth of this virus as much as others I feel is risky. Schools can have procedures and rules such as requiring masks and having students stay six feet apart but in all reality we know that will probably not happen because it isn’t how students think. Kids have been taught to share and make new friends, and it is natural and common for them to want to hug and share things because of that developmental stage of life they are in. They may not keep their masks on or come home with someone else’s on. Children, especially Pre-K – 2nd, like to play games and really interact with other kids their age. Even for middle and high school students who can understand the severity of the virus are still at risk.

One major concern for me are the bathrooms. Schools struggle with keeping them clean on a normal day and I think it will be hard to keep them sanitized. They must be cleaned after each person goes in and who’s to say more than one child will go in at a time? You can clean/sanitize the space but some of the germs can still cohabitate in the area.   

Then there is transportation to think of! Most children take the bus and train to school everyday. You add the children, people who work in school, and others who already are taking public transportation for their jobs, and this poses a serious risk of exposure. Everyone is touching rails, poles, chairs, etc. Are we supposed to wear gloves? How do we maintain 6 feet on a train full of kids trying to get to school and adults getting to work? Why go through all of this risk? What will we do about schools that have 500+ students and are normally supposed to seat 20-25 students in each class? How do we “stay safe” and prevent exposure when we are putting ourselves at risk around 500+ people every weekday? And who’s to say that these elementary kids can go to school without that risk of being exposed, and coming home and exposing their family?

Instead of rushing to get students back to in person classes schools should make sure that all students and families have the support that they need to thrive in virtual learning. Examples include making sure that students have quality computers, providing small (possibly) in-person tutoring for students who are struggling and also abolish some student expenses, especially for seniors.

Thank you for allowing me to testify and share my thoughts.  Have a nice day!

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