State Board of Education
August 18, 2021
Hello, I am Stefany Thangavelu, a 4th grade DCPS parent and former LSAT member. My comments today pertain to access and choice pertaining to virtual learning while also mobilizing to ensure all in person learning is safe for children in DC.
While I strongly believe that in person learning is a more effective way to educate children and this is supported by tons of research, I also know that staying home prevents COVID and the majority of DCPS students are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. I believe everyone should have the choice to receive a high quality virtual instruction with DCPS and there is currently a petition that shows a strong demand for this option. (https://www.change.org/p/mayor-muriel-bowser-chancellor-lewis-ferebee-dc-schools-must-provide-a-virtual-option-until-children-under-12-can-be-vaccinated?) Given the alarming surge in Delta, many families are concerned about rapid spread in school. DCPS should take multiple mitigation efforts and ensure that a Virtual Learning Academy is available to all families in DC who are not able to return to in person learning for any reason. Meanwhile, next door in Arlington Public Schools they have invested $11 million into their Virtual Learning Program to ensure all families can have a robust high quality program with teachers trained to create healthy academic and socio-emotional learning environments. (https://www.apsva.us/school-year-2021-22/virtual-learning-program/) Unfortunately, many DCPS families are begging pediatricians to sign off on forms and scrabbling to find alternatives to in person learning. While I appreciate that IPL is more effective and the evidence supports the need to have students learning in person, I strongly believe that all families should have the right to receive a quality virtual learning opportunity until vaccines are available to all ages.
My next point is that in addition to masks, DCPS should have mandatory COVID testing of kids and teachers weekly regardless of vaccination status to ensure containment and data on risk in the school community. We know that there are breakthrough cases with the Delta variant and that vaccinated individuals can transmit the virus to peers. There should be testing and quarantining protocols regardless of vaccination status when contact tracing indicates you are at risk of being infected. Vaccinated people can get and spread COVID, and be just as infectious. The window to prevent someone from spreading COVID forward starts 24 hours after exposure. Not asking vaccinated and masked kids to quarantine, and not notifying the whole class to get tested, seems likely to lead to more infections and more harm to our community as a whole.
The consent to test should also bemandatory, the same as immunizations. Families should be allowed to opt out but the default should be to consent. As part of enrolling your child in a public institution there should be a default to protect all children and this also keeps your child and your family safer by knowing if there is asymptomatic spread or infection. We can’t see this virus and it doesn’t even present symptoms in many people, the only way to trace and contain the spread is through testing. Why not test every child on the first day to get a handle on just how much COVID is coming to schools, and where clusters currently are located, this is invaluable intel for our health department. We can easily test and should test weekly to monitor and protect the entire community.
Finally, outdoor eating and learning should be scaled and investments made to close down streets or utilize public spaces beyond the school building as needed. We have done this for restaurants, why not for our kids??? There should be additional staff, tents and other supports for facilitating healthy outdoor learning and eating spaces.
I thank all the educators and families who are working to support the safe and healthy learning at DCPS.