Testimony of Heather Schoell, Eastern HS PTO President
I need you to think of a really horrible, hectic day you’ve had, one where you needed to be in multiple places at the same time, when you didn’t get to finish your morning coffee, and lunch is chips at 4pm. Now play that out as your EVERY DAY.
This is where school staff is right now, not only at Eastern, but at all schools. In normal times, each school support staff member is doing the job of 2 people, just because that’s how the budget goes, and they make it work. Now, because of COVID-related absences, the days are almost unbearable. Instead of doing her regular duties, the director of strategy and logistics is frantically calling and texting teachers to see who can cover for this class or that class when teachers call out.
That means teachers who are in the building aren’t getting planning periods. Daily tasks are put on the back burner. The system is collapsing because everything in the day is reactive. The A/C was out in most of the school, so they had to react by trying to move classes to a cooler room. The effect of every person out for the day cascades – it’s one fewer for lunch duty, for covering the phones, for ordering supplies, for helping students, for all the little things that make up a day in a school. Every snag takes time, but the majority of the blame lies at the feet of COVID.
I’ve known many of the staff at Eastern going on 6 years now, and I can tell you that I have never seen them so wiped out, depleted, and defeated. They are bone tired and there is no end in sight for them, no end of these hectic days. They can only take this high intensity and fatigue for so long. I’m really afraid they’re not coming back next year because of the level of stress, and I can’t blame them. This stress can also make them more susceptible to getting sick.
Teachers and support staff are people who have people issues – health concerns, elderly family members, babies at home. Just as we have contracts that help protect workers from being taken advantage of, and OSHA guidelines to make the physical environment safe, we have to have health standards that protect everyone.
Without objection, the Eastern PTO sent a letter to Mayor Bowser and Chairman Mendelson in support of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all eligible students. As of yesterday, the Pfizer vaccine is fully approved for ages 5 to 11. Currently, student athletes ages 16 and over are required to be vaccinated, which is great. It’s not so great for the student theater group, student club members, or students at indoor lunch. It makes no sense.
Nothing is going to change until all students are fully vaccinated. The hectic days, the call-outs, the heightened angst – nothing will change. We need the required student immunization list to include COVID. It’s really that simple. It’s only an issue if you make it one.
I think the way to get where we need to go is with mobile medical units going to underserved neighborhoods. That would cover school immunizations, school athletics participation, even check-ins with the elderly.
This hearing should have been a year ago, and this legislation should long since have been on the books.