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Remarks by Danica Petroshius – WTU Hearing and Rally on DCPS Reopening Plan

Remarks by Danica Petroshius

DCPS Parent

WTU Rally

October 23, 2020

Good afternoon. My name is Danica Petroshius and I am a parent of two children at a DCPS school that serves students from every Ward, with the highest percentage of students residing in Wards 5-8. We are a strong school community built on: 

  • Community created by our families and educators now and those that came before us;
  • our diversity; and
  • our willingness to work together on solutions.

Building community and trust in schools is hard, daily work – but it is the secret sauce that keeps our schools moving forward and improving.

The Mayor’s plan fails us. It breaks a critical formula for public school success – it tries to divide communities instead of bringing them together. The Council has followed suit by denying parents and educators the opportunity to testify on the record about our concerns.

I stand here today on behalf of parents across our city that support our teachers.

Families have different needs and perspectives on when and how schools should reopen. I respect and appreciate all of those perspectives. But I have overwhelmingly heard that despite our different needs and perspectives, parents want to first and foremost support our teachers because:

We value communities where teachers and parents work together.

We value rich academic learning that happens because of our teachers.

We value the relationships our students and teachers have created that build the social, emotional well-being that our students need – more now than ever.

We value the additional supports that every adult in our school buildings provide for our students from our custodians to counselors to librarians to social workers to classroom assistants to coaches to our school leaders.

We value the need for mental health supports in our schools – a need that has only gotten more acute during the pandemic.

We value full transparency of standards and evidence of the highest protocols of health and safety.

We value equity – and that includes more creativity than the current binary solutions offered. We know that this limited notion of in-person or virtual will not meet the needs of students where virtual is not working, but families are also at high risk of COVID.

And we value the health and safety of every adult, child and family in our schools.

City leadership failed to deliver on every point. Just last night, the Chancellor sent an email to parents that purposefully tries to mislead parents into thinking that teachers are bought into this plan.

Let’s be clear: at no point does it say the magic words: “We have come to an agreement with our teachers on how to move forward.”

City leaders do not share our values by trying to mislead us and leave teachers out of decision-making.

City leaders do not share our values by trying to pit families against educators.

City leaders do not share our values by prioritizing disruption over relationships.

City leaders do not share our values by prioritizing rushed solutions over solutions that will meet the needs of our students.

City leaders do not share our values by prioritizing secrecy and spin over transparency and evidence.

The lack of shared values is speaking louder to parents than the rhetoric by DCPS and the Mayor.

Parents feel the disruption, the silence instead of asking parents what they need, and the lack of teacher engagement baked into this half-baked plan.

When you don’t co-create with teachers, you lose parent trust.

City leaders should develop a plan that is co-developed with teachers, minimizes disruption to what is working now, and responds to real information about what every family needs – especially those where both in-person and virtual do not work well.

Finally, let’s be real. This has happened before and it’s happening again only with more dire consequences. Too often, families and schools are left carrying the burden of bad decision-making. It is us who will fix this for you, again and again, whether you ask us or not. We will not walk away from our children and we will not walk away from our schools. We remain here, right here, waiting and fixing, for you to hear us and care.

Thank you.

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Sandra Moscoso – SBOE Meeting on Reopening of DC Public Schools

Testimony of Sandra Moscoso

before the DC State Board of Education

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Reopening of Schools

President Watterberg and State Board of Education Representatives, thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Sandra Moscoso. I live in Ward 6 and am the parent of two students at School Without Walls High School, where I serve as the President of the Home and School Association.

I am here to raise grave concerns about how DC Public Schools, together with the Department of General Services are proceeding with plans to reopen schools for in person instruction in a way that excludes teachers, threatens principals, and ignores very real concerns raised by parents. 

It’s no secret that teachers have been excluded from the planning process around reopening schools. Instead of engaging them, and building sensible practices or co-creating distance-friendly solutions, teachers have been treated like an afterthought, with no regard for their expertise and worse, with no regard for their well-being and health.

Principals have been kept in the dark, and forced to respond to last minute decisions or reversals that come from Central Office. I got the first taste of it this summer while DCPS insisted summer bridge would be in-person, suggesting teacher shortages be filled by Central Office staff who know nothing about the schools they would be representing. This DCPS “solution” would come back to haunt us this week. DCPS reversed course at the last minute, leaving Principals scrambling to recruit teachers in the summer and pull together last minute virtual classes.

Principals have also been silenced. A little over two weeks ago, Principal Trogisch publicly shared that DCPS and DGS could not answer his basic questions about air filtration and ventilation standards. He was transparent with his community and that he would not open Francis-Stevens elementary if he did not feel it was safe. Days later, he was abruptly fired for what was originally described to us as “administrative’ reasons, leaving 1200 students, their families and their educators shocked and devastated. DCPS recklessness was no oversight. When asked how this decision, made during a pandemic, weeks from reopening schools, was in the best interest of students, Chief of Secondary Schools Cito Narcisse and Instructional Superintendent Jellig responded simply. “It is not in the best interest of students.”

DCPS’s actions inspire no confidence and have not just eroded the trust of parents in Central Office, but now threaten to erode the trust we have in our own principals, who have been given the very clear message to fall in line or be dismissed. 

Like yesterday’s news of DCPS’ plan to pull staff from secondary schools to support CARES classes, DCPS continues to introduce ideas that threaten to disrupt the fragile “new normal” we have all worked so hard to build. Their recklessness threatens to destabilize academic scaffolding and every school community’s mental health.

I am here to ask the State Board of Education to pass a resolution to call for the reinstatement of Principal Trogisch, to express no confidence in the way Chancellor Ferebee has handled his firing, and to express no confidence in how DC Public Schools is rolling out the plans to reopen for in-person learning.

Thank You.

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Suzanne Wells Testimony – SBOE Meeting on Reopening of DC Public Schools

DC State Board of Education

Public Meeting

October 20, 2020

Re-opening of Schools

My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization. Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening about the plans to re-open the DCPS. The State Board of Education is the only elected body that has welcomed public comment on the reopening plans, and for than I am grateful.

DCPS recently announced their plans to proceed with a limited reopening of its schools on November 9.  This plan was developed with little to no input from teachers and parents, and that is its major problem.  Had DCPS worked collaboratively with teachers and parents on the reopening plan, I can assure you the plan would look very different from what it currently looks like.

The Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization recently put out an open letter asking parents to share their questions and comments about reopening.  Attached to my testimony are the questions and comments we’ve received to date.

As would be expected, there are many questions about the safety of the schools.  Questions about ventilation, disinfecting surfaces, sanitizing bathrooms, etc.  Nobody wants to return to school if it isn’t safe, and there is a chance of contacting Covid-19. I suspect there will be answers to these questions though many parents are suspicious.  Many schools, especially in wards 5, 6, 7 and 8, still haven’t haven’t had full renovations, and don’t have modern ventilation systems.  Especially at these un-renovated schools, how will they be made safe?

The DCPS reopening plan doesn’t address how we will ensure students and teachers who are sick will not enter the schools.  There are no temperature checks when you enter a school building.  There are no plans for covid testing.  There are no plans for contact tracing.  Not all schools will have nurses.  It seems that basic, common-sense precautions to protect teachers and students have not even been considered in the reopening plan.

The DCPS reopening plan is a uniform plan that is being applied to a wide diversity of situations.  When DCPS announced the start of Student Support Centers in October, these plans were developed by principals who had an understanding of their school communities and needs.  The Student Support Centers were taking incremental steps to reopening.  Some were offering in-person recess to support the social emotional development of its youngest students.  Others were offering outdoor learning activities for their special education students.  The schools developed their Student Support Center plans to reach their students who most needed in-person instruction, and were doing it in safe ways.  DCPS could have expanded the number of schools offering Student Support Centers, and evaluated them for what could be learned, but instead announced its uniform reopening plan.

What might be most troubling about the plan is that they didn’t involve the very families who are expected to send their child for in-person instruction.  They didn’t ask these families if in-person instruction is what would best meet their family’s needs.  I am hearing anecdotal reports that some of the families identified for in-person instruction don’t feel safe sending their child to in-person school. 

What surprised me the most in the answers we got is how many parents were concerned that the reopening plan would disrupt the online learning currently occurring.  Many felt their teachers had done a very good job engaging their class in the on-line learning, and they feared that teachers might be pulled from on-line learning to support in-person instruction, and that the class sizes could increase placing great burdens on teachers.

It’s shameful that so much time and energy has been spent developing a plan that is devoid of parent and teacher voice.  Only when DCPS brings its key stakeholders to the table to help it create a reopen plan will we have a plan that meets teacher and family needs.

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Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO)

Virtual Meeting

May 7, 2020

1- Digital Equity in DC Education Update

  • DCPS has distributed ~8K devices.  Elementary school distributions happening this week.
  • Sent 2 pages of recommendations to DCPS. Asked for additional tech support; ensure curriculum includes picking up digital literacy skills
  • Wifi was set up in public spaces, not in public housing units
  • Pushing for analytical framework so there can be broader options at different price points
  • FY21 budget asks: DC Education Coalition for Change (DECC) trying to figure out – is there a way to advocate for federal funding

 

Q: sense on how many students still need laptops? When schools handout devices and hotspots they learn more about who needs them. Lacking good data on the full need. School principal shave a good sense of who needs them, but not down to the family level detail

Want DC gov now to start looking at options; if fed $ comes

 

2 – Re-Open DC Letter

  • 200+ signatures, based on ideas and Qs parents are asking about response to pandemic
  • Asked DME how groups are invited to participate, and stressed those most impacted need to be at the table. DME responded, but did not answer how ‘seats at the table’ are selected

3 – Re-Open DC Education and Child Care Committee

  • All input received has been taken into consideration
  • What got heard: families will be allowed to opt out
  • A lot of fear about bringing teachers and students back to school while there will be a lot of pressure on the schools to open up. 
    • Concern there can’t be a long-term phrase of mostly online learning 
    • Need to get students back to their communities and schools
    • Concerns; if we go back to school with social distancing, DCPS must take advantage of the space it has
    • Committee report now due May 15.  Committee members not likely to see report before it goes to the Mayor.
    • At what level is it prescriptive? How much does Department of Health determine and how much do LEAs? Will there be DoH on site to manage/watch over implementation of risk mitigators
  • Need to push DCPS to hear voice of parents who have to be at work, those struggling with digital learning, students who are ELL and those missing sense of community

Q: Education report goes to Mendelson/Rice/Fenty/ will form all the input into one doc.  Unclear who is doing the writing (Kihn, etc?)

  • Will there be consistent recommendations across sectors?
  • Acknowledgement that families should have right to make own decisions and schools should have the responsibility to connect with families
  • Not a lot of disagreement across what various groups submitted

Q: What was Liz Davis’ input?

  • Feedback from teachers with concerns on how will they be protected
  • WTU sent out survey and had 45 teachers volunteer to serve on a task force. Concerns about getting sick and bringing back illness to their families; a lot of questions and concerns are driven by safety concerns
  • Goal is to go back to the classroom
    • Issues were around PD/use of platforms; online learning
    • Huge concern on digital divide; up to half students aren’t participating in digital learning
  • Can we use Canvas?  Series of videos being created
  • Is there a way for teachers to provide feedback to central offices about what they need?
    • All feedback going through principals
  • A lot of work can be done over the summer; need a lot of voices over the summer
  • It’s a big threat to DCPS if we transfer to long term distance learning – we have to make it safe, but need to think creatively about how to do this.
  • Need to make sure all health forms are in with the DCPS deadline to support healthy schools

 

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Parent Sign On Letter Raising Questions about Learning in a Pandemic – to the Mayor and Committee on Education and Child Care

Note: we could not find a publicly available list of all of the Committee members’ emails. We found as many as we could. Please share with the full Committee. Thank you.

Dear Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Reopen DC Committee: Education and Child Care,

On behalf of the 203 parents and community members who signed, please accept the attached letter. It contains over 30 questions across topic areas including safe and healthy learning, facilities, and more, all with a focus on equity. We hope that you will consider and share feedback on these issues as you develop your report and plans.

Parents, educators, and students are all critically important partners in this work. We must listen and learn from one another in order to succeed – especially in a time of crisis. Families know this and are ready, as always, to help and share our thoughts.

As parents signed the letter, they also raised the additional ideas and questions below. This important ongoing feedback underscored why it is so critical that the stakeholders that are most impacted by these decisions be at the table. We believe these should be considered too:

  • Work Security. How will we ensure that security guards, janitorial staff, kitchen workers who are essential staff and vital elements to school operations are able to maintain employment even if they or a close relative are affected by COVID-19?
  • Nurses. How will we ensure that if schools are open for in-person learning there is a nurse on site in every school?
  • Special Education. How will we ensure that the specific needs of students with disabilities are met? How will districts address IEP requirements during remote and hybrid arrangements? How will we address social distancing for students who require hands-on assistance or aides? How will we ensure the compatibility of online platforms with assistive technology?

Importantly, this work is not yet done. We must continue to reach out to those parents not yet heard from. We hope that as you develop your report, you recommend that dialogue and feedback continue through the Pandemic and that the full spectrum of stakeholders be included. Only then will we be sure that all issues and perspectives are being heard and addressed.

Thank you for your consideration.

Danica Petroshius on behalf of all of the signees

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W6PSPO Virtual Meeting Notes – April 9, 2020

Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO) Meeting Notes

April 9, 2020 – via Zoom

Attendees:

  • Sonja Walti, Jefferson Academy and School Without Walls
  • Danica Petroshius, Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan
  • Jessica Sutter, State Board of Education Ward 6
  • Grace Hu, Amidon-Bowen, @Digital Equity in DC Education
  • Valerie Jablow, Duke Ellington
  • George Blackmon, Maury
  • Amy and Joe Weedon, Eliot-Hine and School Without Walls
  • Elsa Falkenberg, Tyler
  • Sandra Moscoso, Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan and School Without Walls
  • Suzanne Wells

Digital Equity

We learned from Grace Hu that DCPS made the decision to release devices to students who don’t have access to technology at home.  They have been releasing devices to high school students first, middle school students who haven’t already received devices from schools should begin receiving them next week, and elementary students will be after middle school students.  DCPS has purchased 10K wifi hotspots that are being distributed to schools, and then to students who need them.

The ~16K devices DCPS has to release are not all at the locations where they are needed.  Decisions have been made to shift devices from schools with low demand for devices to schools with high demand.  Principals/teachers have best handle on which students need devices.  There is no city-wide estimate right now on the exact number of devices that are needed, but it is expected more than the ~16K devices will be needed.  Private fundraising may fill gaps.  PTAs/PTOs may fill gaps.  DCPS has talked with Amazon about providing e-readers, but outcome of this discussion is unknown.

Jessica Sutter shared the DME is having daily calls to discuss digital divide and other education issues.  Notes from the calls are publicly available.

Distance Learning and Communication

DCPS, principals and teachers have done an amazing job of shifting to on-line learning.  There is much to be learned, and much to be improved, but the effort everyone is making is to be commended.

DCPS is using the Office 365 software, and Teams learning management product.  Some schools are finding that individual teachers are using other software platforms as everyone gets up to speed with Office 365.

It is recognized there are some students who are going to need support possibly beyond their family to use the devices, navigate the software, and learn when/how to access school work.  Schools are going to need multiple tools in hand to meet multiple needs, e.g., some schools may still need paper packets to give out to families for a period of time.

Students and parents are finding it sometimes to be challenging getting assignments from multiple platforms at different times from different people.  Sonja Walti shared from her professional experience that with on-line learning uniformity, consistency and regularity are key to making the on-line learning experience work.

Parents are observing when a large part of a class is on-line together, the teacher has to learn “on-line classroom management,” techniques.

Community

Schools are finding it is challenging to keep families feeling a part of something during this time.  Some things that parents have found to work are:

  • Zoom meetings with individual classes
  • Virtual mom’s and dad’s nights out over zoom
  • Zoom meetings with Principals and entire school
  • Anacostia HS is planning a virtual block party

Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up, and we know we want to do something special to recognize teachers for what they’ve done.

Need to think about special ways to recognize promotion ceremonies that students graduating from K to 1st grade, elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school will likely miss in person.

Budget

DCPS has said there is going to be a hiring freeze for positions except for teachers and principals.

Little detail is currently known about impacts to current and next year’s budgets.  We believe it is important to keep the LSAT’s engaged in budget decisions so that the decisions are informed by family needs.

Other

Sandra said DCPS is exploring on-line registration this year.

Some schools are starting to have virtual playdates or other connections with incoming SY20/21 families.

Sonja expressed concern that planned efforts to increase enrollment are not likely to happen, and how can school budgets be protected.

Grace said the Office of Teaching and Learning (Karen Cole) is looking for feedback on distance learning.  Melody Molinoff with the W3 Education Council is working on their own survey.  W6PSPO should contact Melody, and share what we learned from our survey and this meeting’s discussion.

Valerie discussed the need to support teachers to be sure they are able to get support during this #StayHomeDC time when they can’t collaborate the same way they normally do with their colleagues.

We discussed the need to take the pressure off teachers with the merit evaluations.  While it is important to learn how teachers are adjusting to on-line learning, it should be a time to do just that, learn how to do on-line learning better, but not a time to focus on performance evaluations.

Please continue to share your challenges and how you are addressing them by adding comments to this google slide. We will monitor and keep this up to date. Add links when possible. Thx!

Next Steps

  1. Grace Hu is interested in receiving feedback from schools on how the device distribution is going.
  2. W6PSPO needs to connect with the Ward 3 Education Council and the Office of Teaching and Learning to provide feedback from our survey and how the on-line learning is going with a goal of sharing lessons learned. We want to emphasize uniformity, consistency and regularity.  (Suzanne & Grace lead)
  3. We all need to share ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week, and how we can be advocates for teachers.
  4. We all need to share ideas to promotion activities.
  5. We need to advocate for LSAT involvement in upcoming budget decisions.

 

 

 

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W6PSPO Updates – March 19, 2020

Dear Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization members,
I hope everyone in the W6PSPO family is staying healthy and safe.
Our schools have been working hard to ensure students are fed, and getting resources in place so learning can continue remotely.  We greatly appreciate all they are doing.  As homeschooling sets in, we appreciate more and more the hard work teachers do.
Many people are sharing on-line and other resources that parents can use as they home school.  I’ve started a google doc with a few ideas, and encourage everyone to add to the list.
There is one sure thing everyone can do now, and that’s be counted in the 2020 Census!  The U.S. Census Bureau has mailed census IDs to homes across the country.  Fill out your census information online before April 1.  Completing your census information by April 1 will help conserve natural resources, save taxpayer money, and process data more efficiently!
Unfortunately, Bike-to-School Day is not going to be held this year.  We hope we will all be able to celebrate Walk-to-School Day in October.  http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/
For the time being, the DC Council budget oversight hearings have been postponed.  As we learn more about when these hearings will be rescheduled, we will share it.  The Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities (C4DC) recently released a proposal that seeks investments in DCPS.  When you have time, please take a look at the proposal.
Suzanne Wells