TESTIMONY BEFORE THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COUNCIL
Roundtable on School Reopening
Elizabeth Callanan Mitchell September 21, 2021
I am testifying here today both as a member of the Executive Committee of the Ward 3 Democrats and as the parent of two DCPS elementary students.
In April 2019, Ward 3 Democrats passed a resolution that asked for the Mayor and City Council to increase transparency, accessibility, and accountability while also giving significant weight to the needs and wants of the communities our schools were built to serve.
As you have already heard today, it feels as if the Mayor and DCPS have been failing miserably at all of this. Rather than meeting families and students where they are and ensuring they are getting the services and education they need and are owed, we’ve witnessed the powers that be treating our schools as if they are a business. Releasing school plans less than two weeks before the beginning of the school year not only further erodes trust, but it also leaves families and students with no other options when confronted with a plan that was clearly designed to maintain enrollment numbers and keep schools open rather than keeping students educated, healthy and safe. It also fails to acknowledge the Delta variant at all.
In June 2020 we asked the city to meet the anticipated public demand for free COVID testing and screenings, fully fund mental health and wellness programs for the city’s children, commit to no budget cuts for schools in the midst of this pandemic, and establish a dyslexia screening, treatment and prevention pilot program.
From what I’ve seen as a parent, DCPS is failing at all of these goals. There is not nearly enough COVID testing. This administration seems to have ripped a page out of the Trump playbook-if we don’t test for it, we won’t find it! Well it’s certainly at our school. We’re currently tied for second in the city for the most COVID cases but the WORST part is all of our cases were caught with independent testing conducted at the private expense of the families in our school. A year ago almost to the day, Ward 3 Democrats hosted a meeting focused on this very subject that included Professor Michael Mina who talked at length about how important COVID testing was for a safe return to school. Apparently the Deputy Chancellor was more focused on her own comments because it appears DCPS listened to none of what Dr. Mina had to say.
Parental volunteers in our community are working on their own contact tracing because they couldn’t wait on DCPS. Our ability to provide special services to our students is severely curtailed by the fact that many of our offices used for these services are in a part of the building with a broken HVAC and DCPS will only provide filters for classrooms. Our teachers and staff are stretched so thin trying to teach, contact trace, monitor for proper mask wearing and maintain their own health that I have no hope of them being able to participate in any sort of dyslexia screening or training programs which we need now more than ever. Rather than holding school budgets harmless, I see school administrators across the city being pressured to increase enrollment and keep students in seats by any means necessary until October 5th-not because it’s what’s best for the health, safety and wellness of our students or their education but because those are the metrics they need to meet to satisfy the administration. Rather than staffing up for the next 10 years, I see systems in place that are forcing teachers out when we already have a terrible retention rate. We need more Covid testing, more teachers, a virtual option for the students who need it, and quarantine protocols that actually acknowledge what Delta is and how it works. It would help me sleep at night to hear the Chancellor just say “Delta” once.