Testimony for DC Council Roundtable
on School Facility Conditions During Reopening for SY2022 –
September 28, 202
Little specific data on DCPS facilities is issued publicly. What information there is includes the general condition of each building and its modernization status. I have combined these with statistics on the at-risk enrollment by school. Result: 62% of schools that serve the greatest number of at-risk students are only in fair to poor condition, compared with 25% of schools that serve the fewest at-risk students.
Results by ward are similar, given what we know about the differences among DC wards. Only half the schools East of the River have been modernized compared with 100% of those West of the Park. By ward, according to the latest data published, 44% of schools in Ward 8, compared with 60% in Wards 5-7, and 100% Ward 3 have been modernized. We should not be surprised when the HVAC fails in non-modernized schools, or conditions otherwise disfavor learning.
This is a public health problem. At-risk students, particularly those in Wards 5, 7 and 8, live in communities with the highest incidence of COVID, inter-generational households, and the lowest vaccination rates, including those of teenagers. This means that when their schools have bad air, COVID is likely to spread, disproportionately affecting them, their families and their communities.
The danger of COVID infection is not limited to the approximately 33,000 DCPS students below the 7th grade level, who cannot be vaccinated, but also to the thousands of secondary students who are not fully vaccinated. Figures are not available by sector of enrollment, but citywide, this is 61% of all teenagers and huge numbers in the same low-income communities many of whose DCPS facilities are not modernized and in fair to poor condition. Their buildings are not in condition even for COVID prevention, let alone effective learning.
Everyone agrees that in-person schooling is best for students, but DCPS insistence that it is the only way is based on the insistence that the buildings and practices are safe, and that is a false assumption, as shown by the reports of dozens and dozens of eyewitnesses. This did not have to happen. The school system and the DC government have had months to plan and implement functioning HVAC systems with appropriate filters, virtual learning for families that want it (thereby enabling more social distancing), outdoor lunch, adequate masks and protective equipment, robust testing, contact tracing, full reporting.
Why do DC officials have so little respect for parents that they refuse to respect demonstrable needs of some for distance learning and indeed, refuse to believe their eyewitness reports of what is actually happening in schools? Community spread is officially considered to be high. The latest data – release of which has slowed to a crawl — shows new cases and hospitalization levels that put the District far into the red zone where we used to shut things down, and most other metrics have us in Phase 2. Yet, seven-day averages/thousand for DCPS are far above citywide averages.
Where is any sense of urgency? Are we happy as long as we can have indoor dining and live performances in theaters and concert venues for the well-to-do, vaccinated adults from around the region? As COVID spreads through schools, it will rebound right back into the community, especially the communities hardest hit and least vaccinated, people of color and vulnerable states of health. Do they and their children generally not count?
 2020 Master Facilities Plan Update, December 2020 and Annual Enrollment Audit, Fall 2020.