Elizabeth Mitchell Testimony – Oversight Hearing for Education Agencies – March 9, 2021

If you had asked me in June to come up with the worst reopening plan imaginable, I’m not sure I could have done as amazing a job as DCPS. It’s almost art.  

After promising us soap at the onset of the pandemic – mind you- after one of the worst flu seasons our school had ever seen-my trust was a wee bit shaken. 

As the months progressed, there was even less clear communication, less transparency about what was being done to get our kids back into schools. They abruptly cut the school year short. They seemed to bicker and blame the WTU all summer rather than engaging with schools and communities around the city to see what we actually needed and wanted in our plans. We all hoped they were working on facilities upgrades and the backlog of repairs that was thousands of items long. We waited and waited in vain as our schools failed to physically reopen to in person learning time and time and time again for the entire fall and then even into the new year. 

With very little direction and guidance, we managed to get some schools open for a few students in Term 3-at long last. Some of the teachers even got vaccinated before they returned to the classroom-not immunized but at least partially vaccinated! 

And now we come to the most glorious season of them all-the budget! Where schools across the District compete blindly for an unknown amount of funding completely controlled and doled out by the mayor-I mean DCPS. Why do we do this? Why is our budget season so Hunger Games-esque? Why do we make our schools compete for funds in such an inhumane and biased way? 

Schools are being asked to slash budgets and actually cut staff when we all know that’s exactly the wrong thing to do right now. We know our teachers are burned out. We know our students need extra help-not less. We know that when our students are actually able to safely return to classrooms they are going to be very different than the students that left last March. 

Let’s plan and budget for those students…the ones we know are coming back and the ones we know are going to need extra support. They will need academic, social and emotional support to deal with all of the trauma they will be bringing back with them and packing into our classrooms. 

The pandemic is a very present and evolving problem. Do we even know how many of our students will be facing homelessness when the evictions start rolling in? How do these budgets reflect what their needs are going to be? How do these budgets reflect the repairs and remodels schools across the city need to welcome their students back? “Repairs” to schools like Peabody that might have prevented its entire atrium from collapsing? Making sure there’s hot water and fully functioning bathrooms in every school would be a welcome start.  

Instead of making our schools compete and argue for a future they can barely comprehend, let’s plan together and finally fully fund our schools so that we can start to undo some of the trauma. We had a $500 million budget surplus last year. We are about to get billions of dollars in COVID Aid. 

Now is the time to fully fund out public schools. 

Now is the time to build a comprehensive 10 year plan so that we don’t end up with a lost generation. 

Mental health supports, social workers in every school, extra teachers and staff, and fully fund the Dyslexia bill so that we can meet these students where they are and carry them forward into a brighter future.

And plus one to everything and anything Mary Levy said. 

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