Danica Petroshius Testimony – DC Council Roundtable on School Facility Conditions During Reopening for SY2022 – September 28, 2021

Danica Petroshius, DCPS Parent Testimony

Joint Public Oversight Roundtable on

School Facility Conditions During the Re-Opening for School Year 2021-2022

My name is Danica Petroshius and I am a parent of 2 children at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan. One of my children is 1 vaccinated and 1 is unvaccinated due to being only 11.

After 18 months of keeping my family safe, after 4 days in school, COVID spread through our house. My unvaccinated son was the first reported COVID case in our school and my vaccinated daughter was the 2nd. He contracted COVID in school and then spread it to my daughter and me, and we are both vaccinated. He participated in a random 10% sampling test where he tested NEGATIVE on the 4th day of school and was positive by the following Monday, found by a test administered by our private doctor. I followed DCPS rules and sent my vaccinated child to school against my gut – and 2 days later she tested positive too. This means that the city told me to send her to school while she was contagious, potentially infecting other children. I still to this day am wrestling with that fact in my own moral compass.

That experience taught me first hand how the city is not doing enough to keep schools COVID-safer. Please listen to – and believe – me, and other parents, when we tell you what is really happening. Don’t believe the messaging and talking points. When you take the Mayor’s, DME’s and DCPS’s “word for it” you are complicit in supporting transmission, spread and unsafe practices in our schools.

During our family quarantines, my fellow CHML parent Shelley Carr-Brown and I wrote a letter to the Mayor, ccing all of you, asking you to move quickly to change the rules based on what we learned about where the gaps are. We were fully transparent about our family COVID experiences and specific about our recommendations. I have attached the letter to this testimony. In summary, our simple, easy-to-do recommendations that were included are:

  • Improve transparency and communications including classroom level reporting of cases and faster turn around on all communications
  • Testing all students weekly
  • Fully resource and support safe, outdoor eating for all schools, all students
  • Strengthen quarantine rules for household members, vaccinated or not
  • Improve nap room safety
  • Offer a quality Virtual Option for any family that needs it and for all students in quarantine

The DME responded to our letter and recommendations saying that the city is already doing everything just fine and schools are safe. I have also included our marked, fact check of his letter to us. His claims do not meet the reality on the ground. In addition, I have attached a mark up of the city’s covid tracing – it does not work how they say it does.

We are one month into school and city leaders, including all of you, are “listening” but not acting. Instead, it seems you are doubling down with the Executive on the narrative that everything is working just fine. Parents know it is not just fine. We can do better to keep families safe and slow transmission. We ask you to resist being complicit; to refuse to accept that you are powerless to act.

I have heard Council spew arguments about the bureaucratic obstacles in place that stop you from acting to make COVID safer schools such as:

  • The Mayor controls reprogramming of funds, not us
  •  Legislation takes too long and the Mayor can just ignore what we say
  •  Emergency legislation can’t have a cost so it’s so limiting
  • We have no real leverage because the Mayor controls schools

Parents are tired of excuses. When the Council wants to do something – NONE OF THOSE EXCUSES  MATTER. You find power. Please find all of your super powers now.

For example, while it is the Executive that submits reprogrammings, it is Council that must approve them. You are not powerless here.

Yes, permanent legislation takes a long time to become law but just working on it can move the Executive to change and you started work on COVID-safer schools too late. You could have – and parents asked you to – done oversight of reopening last spring and started working on legislation then, or two months ago, or one month ago. But you didn’t.

And yes, the Executive does ignore you sometimes. Why do you think that is and what are you doing to change it?

There is no law that emergency legislation can have no fiscal impact but it is your practice. Further, we know that if the Chairman supports the legislation, whatever fiscal impact there is “can be absorbed” in the agency’s budget. We aren’t falling for this.

Finally, yes, the Mayor controls DCPS and charter schools are on their own. But you are our state legislature. You make the laws and you oversee Mayoral control. Stop making excuses. Let’s fix it together.

As a voter, taxpayer and parent I ask: why is it that you won’t act now for safer schools and a virtual option. If our calls for action last Spring to best prepare for the fall weren’t enough, last week’s hearing should have propelled you into action. But it didn’t. And I am angry.

I am angry that you listened to parents, educators and community members telling you their lived truths yet you seem to just accept and believe the executive while they danced and lied to you – and then did nothing to improve the situation.

Let me just remind you of a few of the half-truths and untruths that the Executive told you last week – what are you doing about it today? Tomorrow? Every day?

Untruth 1: Last Spring we had low cases in kids, so planning changed last minute this fall when cases rose and we are adjusting.

Truth 1: Everyone knows that last Spring very few kids were in person. Parents knew: when you go to full capacity, we are going to need to be ready with all we got to curb spread. The city failed here to plan and prepare adequately.

Untruth 2: Soon we will have a vaccine for ages 5-11 which will make things all better.

Truth 2: No. Vaccines are just one layer of mitigation and we still have 3 and 4 year olds in school. If we don’t make it much safer in schools then we will continue to spread (my family is a great example).

Untruth 3: In person learning is the only learning experience we need and the only safe experience.

Truth 3: There are families with serious health risks and thousands of others in quarantine. By not offering a virtual option for all, we risk exacerbating learning gaps and threatening the fabric of household family structures. 

Untruth 4: DCPS has provided every school with the support they need for outdoor breakfast and lunch.

Truth 4: FALSE.

Untruth 5: Communications go to the class level, not only the close contacts and whole school.

Truth 5: FALSE. This is only true if the whole class is quarantining. It is not true when a few people are told to quarantine.

UnTruth 6: DCPS Chancellor said “We are not unenrolling children at this time.”

Truth 6: Did you see what he did there? “not at this time…” Right because as he was testifying, he was sending CFSA to homes across the city for keeping children home where parents and caregivers feel they are COVID-safer. And guess what, at least one family – LAST NIGHT – was told they are being unenrolled. It only took the Mayor and DCPS a week after that lie to kick kids out of school during a pandemic. This is not a DC to be proud of.

TBD Untruth: Today: whatever they say, just know that: our facilities are NOT COVID-safer. We have schools across the city with serious air quality and HVAC issues. Schools communities are scrambling to supply what DCPS has not – enough HEPA filters, furniture, small kid-fitting masks, testing and more. THIS IS WRONG.

There were and will be more untruths. In every hearing the Executive lies to you or doesn’t know what is going on in their own schools. But it has to stop. It’s not funny. It’s not cute when the leaders think of cute phrases to duck the truth. Kids are getting sick. Educators are getting sick. And everyone in the Council and Executive seem to happily work on Zoom and go home at night and sleep well while the rest of us worry. That is not leadership.

Please read the attachments carefully and consider all of the data and recommendations.I specifically want to highlight that we need you to:

Support weekly testing for all kids in schools – and if you won’t do it – at least let us do it. CDC recommendations say that while 10% random testing is a start, it’s not optimal. That weekly testing (or more) of all students is best for limited transmission. Yet DCPS is sticking to 10% only (and not even meeting that level a month into school). So parents like those at my all-wards school called a provider who – AT NO COST TO ANY PARENT – would set up a tent at any school or location to allow easy-to-access testing. Parents at our school organized it – and were hoping to have a table, tent, and electricity from the school. DCPS shut it down. We moved it a block away to a lovely neighborhood coffee shop that was accommodating and the line was around the block – school families or neighbors could participate. Demand is high. We recommend that DCPS put a site at every school weekly for all families – and at a minimum don’t stand in the way of families who want to protect their family AND school community from transmission.

Supply adequate outdoor furniture and cover for all schools. We heard the Chancellor say in last week’s hearing that all schools have what they need to do outdoor learning. They do not. In his letter, the DME said the opposite – that we are not supporting outdoor learning at the system level because not all schools feel safe with outdoor learning. Yet every day, unmasked indoor lunch and breakfast are potential super spreader events in schools. We are in a public health crisis. Public health should come first. The DME has it wrong – fund and SUPPORT EVERY school in creating safe outdoor learning to limit COVID transmission including tables, chairs, tents, rain cover and heating devices. For schools where outdoor safety or lack of space is a concern, do specialized outreach to each of those schools and trouble shoot – provide them the intense, creative, specialized support they need to ensure that the system is doing all we can for every school. COVID safer has to come first and you don’t do that by always reverting to the lowest common denominator of safety.

Send support NOW to our Nap Rooms across the city. Our nap rooms- full of UNMASKED, UNVACCINATED 3 and 4 year olds who will not have any vaccine any time soon, are not COVID-safer in many schools. They are often small and windowless. Some have outlets, some do not. Not every nap room has a HEPA filter. If the generic “cubic feet per machine” definition that DCPS relies on restricts you, you may not have a HEPA filter in your nap room. This means that we are literally having a potential super spreader event every day in every nap room. We have to do better.

Fix every school’s air quality, HVAC and other building issues immediately. It should have been done by the first day of school. It was not. It was a failure by the Mayor and lack of oversight by Council for not ensuring that this happened on time.

There are more recommendations in the attached. I hope you will consider them all and act swiftly to ensure that schools are COVID safer and there is a virtual option for all who need it.

Thank you.


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