Testimony for DC Council Roundtable
on School Facility Conditions During Reopening for
SY2022 – September 28, 2021
Submitted Testimony Followed by Actual Points Made
Thank you to the Council for the opportunity to share my perspectives. My name is Heather Schoell and I’m the PTO president of Eastern Senior High School.
The pandemic has left us all raw, but we have to push through it. That’s what teachers and school staff are doing, but they don’t work in a vacuum; it takes all the supporting agencies to do their jobs, too. In the best of times, it’s uncomfortable to be in a hot room, but we’re not in the best of times. DCPS swears the air quality in schools is fine because the air quality company DGS hired says it is. You’re only as good as your word, so sorry, but it’s a leap of faith over a canyon to take DGS at their word. After years of dealing with them, every school teacher, custodian, and administrator knows that! Custodial staff can only do so much to get them through when DGS doesn’t do what needs to be done.
DGS had well over a year to make necessary fixes in school buildings. I understand there are supply chain issues, but 18 months is a lot of days and a lot of missed opportunities to work in empty buildings. Now they’re not empty – kids are sweating in 80+ degree classrooms. They’re having to cross to the opposite side of the building to go to the bathroom because of burst pipes. There are work orders from two years ago that have been marked as complete, but were never fixed. It took Council intervention to move the needle at Eastern last year. So what else is new? That’s how things get done in the District, by out-squeaking the other wheels. That’s why there’s an imbalance and an inequality among resources by Ward, including the physical state of schools.
I don’t need four minutes to tell you that we need to hold DGS accountable for their assignments, and it should go without saying that the work should be done well and in a timely fashion. Would you call back a plumber who took a year to fix your leaky sink, or be a loyal customer to the company that keeps NOT fixing your A/C? Why are we allowing this waste and mediocrity to perpetuate? I’ll tell you why – it’s because it’s kids and teachers. Adults with any power wouldn’t stand for discomfort at work. If your office was 86 degrees, you’d turn around and walk out. But kids and teachers don’t have the power to do that.
This school year has started out rough – teachers are quarantined, so there aren’t enough adults in the building to cover classes. It took parents to get DCPS to stop marking quarantined siblings as unexcused. We’re still holding daily indoor banquets – at least 5 per week, but again, it’s kids and teachers having to sit in school lunch rooms, so not adults with the power to refuse.
Do the right thing; use your influence to right wrongs:
- Put a stop to this monopoly on facilities and demand accountability. We need DGS to do their job so that schools can do theirs, and we need a smarter and more organized system of repair requests. If there are 3 broken door alarms at a school, that should be 1 visit, not 3 – DUH. Maybe assign a team (or at least a point person) to schools so they know buildings’ ins and outs?
- We need a hybrid school solution, at least until the vaccine is authorized for under 12s. There’s already a remote learning system in place – access should be expanded so as to not put added pressure on teachers to simultaneously teach to home and in-person students.
- We need a COVID vaccination mandate for all who are eligible; nothing will change in school COVID safety until that’s done.
Actual Points Made:
I wanted to give voice to Mr. Woodfork, Eastern’s head custodian. Last year he shared with me how things work, and I learned just how broken the work order system is, and I shared that with CM White’s staff. Listen to the head custodians. They know the buildings and they know how a redone reporting system should work. The 311 reporting system is already in place. They could use that same system for school facilities needs reporting and tracking.
Stop the silo. Integrate other agencies to make things work. CM White asked parents what to prioritize – the Dept of Housing knows exactly what to prioritize for safety. Bring in DPR for outdoor resources, DOH for testing, etc..
Quit giving DGS and their construction contracts a pass. CM Allen mentioned Maury’s A/C being out after only 2 years, but their roof started leaking right away. That should be noted so we don’t use that company again.