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DCPS Families – Please Complete this Back to School Safety, Tech, and Family Needs Survey

Dear Ward 6 DCPS Families and School Leaders,

Please provide feedback to the ward education councils on your DCPS students’ experiences during the first few weeks of school by completing this survey. The survey includes questions on DCPS health protocols, technology, and family needs. Your answers will inform discussions on how to best meet student needs. 

We hope you will also consider disseminating to your school communities and neighborhood networks. Results will be shared publicly near the end of September.

Survey Link: https://bit.ly/FamilySurveyDCPS

Helpful resources to support social media and paper dissemination HERE

Survey sponsors:
Ward 1 Education Council
Ward 2 Education Council
Ward 3 Wilson Feeder Education Network
Ward 4 Education Alliance
Ward 5 Education Equity Committee
Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization 
Ward 7 Education Council
Ward 8 Education Council

Valerie Jablow Testimony – DC Council Roundtable on DCPS and DCPCS School Reopening – September 21, 2021

Valerie Jablow

Committee of the Whole

Public Roundtable on Re-Opening District of Columbia Public Schools and District of Columbia Public Charter Schools for School Year 2021-2022

September 21, 2021

I am Valerie Jablow, a DCPS parent. As we struggle with the covid delta variant, which has led to increasing cases in our children and schools, I have compiled for you 15 action items to ensure our students and school staff are immediately much safer.[1]

For this compilation, I (and many others) owe a debt of gratitude to DCPS parents Sandra Moscoso, Grace Hu, Becky Reina, Mary Levy, and the (truly) grass roots, 100% parent- and educator-powered DC Families for Covid-Safer Schools.[2]

Sadly, absolutely none of these action items would be needed if the mayor, her deputies, and many DC elected and appointed officials had not prioritized in person learning in SY21-22 over everything else and hinged their actions and answers to questions (including yours at the 9/21/21 hearing) on falsehoods.

Since January, hundreds of parents, teachers, students, and elected officials have testified before you and the state board of education and written you and the mayor about the need for every publicly funded DC school in SY21-22 to have

–vaccine mandates for all students and staff;

–weekly testing for all students;

–robust virtual instruction for all who want it;

–covid guidelines that apply to all of DC’s publicly funded schools; and

–DCPS ensuring equitable physical conditions across its schools, with ample social distancing; fully functional HVAC; and plenty of outdoor space for both learning and eating.

Though we now have a November 1 vaccine mandate for school staff[3], it didn’t happen soon enough to keep an entire grade at Johnson Middle School safe, whose recent quarantine was a result of exposure to an unvaccinated (presumably covid-positive) staff member.[4]

As a healthy, vaccinated DCPS parent with a healthy, vaccinated DCPS student and no ill or immunocompromised household member, I am relatively lucky.

Maybe you and your families are, too.

But you did not permit me or anyone else to testify in person before you at the 9/21/21 hearing because you and I both know that we are not safe doing that.

Thus, I implore you to understand the gravity of what we are facing now in our schools:

Just as we know that not all children learning from home are unhappy, frustrated, or not learning, we also know that children can, and do, get covid; get sick; and die of it.

With hundreds, possibly thousands, of student covid cases JUST in DCPS after only 3 weeks of school, and thousands of our students and staff going into, remaining in, or emerging from quarantine as you read this, the lives of our kids, their families, and their teachers hang in the balance right now.

Please, while there is still a chance: do the right things.

1. Make all DGS work orders for all our schools public.

There is a database—it is not public, and the persistent lag in work orders translates to unsafe school conditions.

2. Make sure DGS is held accountable for lagging work orders and dangerous HVAC conditions at the start of school in DCPS that persist to this very minute.[5]

Per DC Families for Covid-Safer Schools, all indoor spaces should have at least 5 air exchanges per hour.

3. Test all students each week in every school.

Testing protocols in DCPS are not meeting even the minimum the mayor stated on August 18 (10-20% of asymptomatic students weekly), with DCPS identifying only a small fraction of all reported covid cases in its students.[6]

That suggests a terrible public health failure, inasmuch as both robust testing and reporting are being done not by DCPS or any DC agency–but by DCPS parents. As it is, no one anywhere in DC government even knows what DC charters are doing except for the few that have revealed their strategy.

Testing is not rocket science. Per DC Families for Covid-Safer Schools, schools should test all students weekly with asymptomatic PCR; use rapid antigen testing for symptomatic students and staff; use a rapid antigen testing test-to-stay program to reduce quarantine; and ensure all PCR results are returned in 6-18 hours.[7]

4. Make all test results public for all publicly funded schools.

Per parent Sandra Moscoso, testing results should be made public for

# of staff asymptomatic tests conducted each week by school

# of staff positive results from asymptomatic tests by school

# of student symptomatic tests conducted each week by school

# of student positive results from symptomatic tests by school

# of student asymptomatic tests conducted each week by school

# of student positive results from asymptomatic tests by school

# of staff and # of student positive cases reported to DCPS (outside of symptomatic tests) by school[8]

Please do not say or allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that DC’s public reporting right now is accurate or fulsome—it is not. Every single public-facing DC government website with covid data shows different numbers; is lagging in time; and does not have every case, because DCPS itself is not testing widely, thus leaving reporting to parents.

(BTW, does anyone anywhere in DC have information on that list above? If not, why not? Students and families go across wards, across school sectors. If you say you value “school choice,” then you have to value this—unless the choice is actually not that of families, but of school operators.)

5. Employ more contact tracing in DCPS, and ensure that all charters have at least the minimum that DCPS has.

Our UNrobust tracing has ensured that the virus can spread unimpeded. Right now, DCPS employs 10 contact tracers for about 50,000 students. KIPP employs 6 for 7000 students.[9]

6. Ensure case notifications are updated more rapidly and disseminated to full school communities.

I was never informed by anyone at my school or at DCPS that there was a positive covid case at my child’s school—I got the news from my child and from checking the DCPS website of notifications (see here: https://dcpsreopenstrong.com/health/response/notifications/).

As it is, DCPS official case updates are wildly variable and often slow. Some school communities have been notified a week or more after a positive case was identified. That ensures only one thing: the further spread of the virus.[10]

7. Ensure all DCPS communities have the outdoor furniture and equipment needed to use outdoors spaces immediately and fully.

Right now, only a subset of DCPS schools has students eating outdoors, and it is unclear whether all schools will have assistance creating safe outdoor spaces.[11] All DC leaders have put this 100% on DCPS principals—which is neither fair nor helpful.

8. Make quarantine rules truly robust–and stop promulgating the myth that because someone is vaccinated they cannot get and transmit covid.

Right now in DC’s schools, CDC guidelines are being used as a ceiling, not as a floor.

That not only prevented a vaccinated sibling from quarantining when her sibling became infected, but also ensured that she was at school, possibly infecting others for days, before being diagnosed with covid herself.[12]

Per DC Families for Covid-Safer Schools, all classes sharing indoor space for more than 15 minutes should quarantine if anyone in the class tests positive. In addition, all students (as well as any children residing with them) in any class with a positive case should be tested immediately.

And if a sibling tests positive, every student in that household needs to quarantine at the same time, regardless of vaccination or test status. This sound guidance is used by a number of other jurisdictions.[13]

9. Ensure all students in quarantine or whose families have kept them home because they are unvaccinated or have family members who are immunosuppressed receive appropriate educational materials and support.

We have heard, repeatedly, that not all kids who are quarantined in DCPS are receiving fulsome educational materials, and no one really knows what is happening in our charters WRT quarantine education outreach (or, if they do, they’re certainly not making that information public).

Worse, DCPS has allegedly told teachers to not help families who are keeping their children at home for fear of covid—even when those families are using school materials obtained through teachers and their schools.

All of this amounts to denial of education.

10. Provide robust virtual options for students in quarantine and those whose families wish to keep (or are currently keeping) their students at home.

Literally no one has ever said in person learning is not desirable for the vast majority of students.

But since the start of school, we have been facing huge numbers of covid cases in DC, many among school-age children, while more than 50,000 DC students are currently unable to be vaccinated because they are not yet eligible.[14]

A robust virtual option for those who want or need it would not only prevent the spread of the virus, but it would address the weirdly depressed enrollment of 48,704 students in DCPS for SY21-22 (cited at the mayor’s press conference on 9/20/21), which is likely due to parents keeping their unvaccinated kids home out of a rational fear of covid.

11. Provide tech support in DCPS sufficiently such that there is a 1:1 device ratio for all students, and classrooms and teachers are able to pivot to virtual for some or all students through simulcasting or a fully virtual option.

Right now, Digital Equity in DC Education estimates that only 35% of DCPS classrooms have the ability to have a simulcast teaching session.

The tech survey work of that organization has also made clear that DCPS is falling far short of a 1:1 device ratio at all schools, such that even having any virtual option is precluded for large swathes of DCPS. There is also evidence of insufficient internet access and tech support for existing devices in DCPS, including many classes with nonworking smart boards and teachers without working laptops.[15]

12. Stop threatening families with disenrollment, reporting to child protective services, and punitive absence policies.

Right now, many families who have kept their unvaccinated children at home have been told they will be disenrolled from their schools come October 5 if they do not send their children in person to school. Many have had visits from child protective services.

These punitive policies hurt all students, most especially those with disabilities whose supports have been most at peril in the pandemic.[16]

DCPS absence policy even counts an absent sibling of a student diagnosed with covid as unexcused, when quarantining of all household members of any student diagnosed with covid is the rational and humane action for everyone, even the vaccinated.

In addition to enduring these punitive actions, DCPS parents must provide additional information to prove the need to quarantine if a student is not identified by DCPS for quarantine, including date of covid exposure; length of quarantine; and name, organization, and contact information of the medical professional or contact tracer ordering the quarantine.

13. Mandate vaccinations for all eligible students and roll out vaccines immediately after approval for children 5-11 years old.

DC is blessed to have plentiful safe and effective vaccines for covid—but the carrot approach is clearly not working with regard to covid vaccination. Analysis by Mary Levy shows low rates of covid vaccination among DC children who are currently eligible for it.[17]

As a society, we decided a long time ago that it wasn’t acceptable for kids to suffer from (and occasionally die of) vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles, smallpox, and polio.

Why are we pretending that deadly and highly transmissible covid is any different?

If LA can mandate vaccination for covid for all eligible school kids, so can DC.

14. Ensure the same rules for covid testing, quarantine, and vaccination apply to all DC’s publicly funded schools.

The acting head of OSSE said at the mayor’s September 20 update that 41 charter LEAs are participating in the city’s school-based testing program.

So: what’s happening with the other 20-some charter LEAs? Why is there any difference? Why don’t we know? WHAT don’t we know?[18]

We have decided as a society that the safety of kids at publicly funded schools is paramount. This is why we don’t have different rules for DC charters for, say, fire safety; building certification; potable water; clean air; vaccinations; and school nurses.

We should not have different rules with covid, either.

15. Put a stop to the politicizing of sensible public health measures for school children in a pandemic, like mandated vaccinations and virtual instruction.

Our averages of covid cases, and covid metrics, have for weeks now been above what the mayor herself set for safe re-opening.[19]

Yet, the deputy mayor for education himself implied to parents not only that virtual learning is inequitable, but that wanting virtual learning is somehow being against in person learning.[20]

Current punitive policies for absences and quarantine (as outlined in #12 above) ignore the traumatic reality of many DC families in this pandemic and prioritize a political desire: that of a return to normal in schools.

But what we are experiencing right now with covid is NOT normal! We need to meet our families where they are—not where someone’s political desire wants them to be or pretends they are.

None of the 15 action items above are beyond your power; the power of anyone in DCPS or DC charter schools; or the budget of DC.

Really: You, the mayor, and other elected and appointed leaders can do this–today.

Please: DO IT.


[1] I write this at a time of terrible statistics regarding DC schools and covid. Both DC school-based cases (see here: https://twitter.com/wperkinsDC/status/1436003213837225984) and cases among DC school-aged kids (see here: https://dccovid.com/ages.html) have been surging since DC kids returned to school in August. Not surprisingly, Children’s hospital has been full of covid cases in kids (see here: https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/childrens-national-near-capacity-amid-rsv-covid-surge/2799872/).

[2] Here is the latest for the group’s re-opening recommendations: https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/for-release-to-officials-dc-families-for-covid-safer-schools-asks-2021.pdf

[3] See the slide deck here from the mayor’s September 20, 2021 press conference: https://mayor.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/mayormb/release_content/attachments/COVID-19-Situational-Update-Presentation_09-20-21.pdf

[4] The original reporting is here: https://twitter.com/deliangoncalves/status/1435631767004848133 It was subsequently confirmed through reporting by Perry Stein in the Post that the cause for the Johnson MS exposure and subsequent quarantine was an unvaccinated staff member: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/09/19/dc-school-covid-quarantine-testing/

[5] I counted a minimum of 10 DCPS schools with failed HVAC in the days before school started (see here: https://twitter.com/DrTeeeee/status/1430545198698930179). The problems continued through last week (see here: https://twitter.com/EboniQueen3/status/1438479773567684609 and see here: https://twitter.com/codybnorton/status/1439233035703136261) and into this week (see here: https://twitter.com/codybnorton/status/1439923880815116289 and see here: https://twitter.com/mrvarhall/status/1440419911558303755).

That was hardly the only ventilation failure in DCPS: Several people took to fundraising to purchase or make covid-safe filters for individual classrooms (see here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/air-filters-for-dcps?viewupdates=1&rcid=r01-163097622253-f30f939ea1a04645&utm_medium=email&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_email%2B1137-update-supporters-v5b%2Bspider1c).

Yet, 11 days before school started, DCPS removed the HVAC reports from its “reopen strong” website: https://twitter.com/sandramoscoso/status/1428388076489957380.

[6] See slide 6 here for DCPS testing protocols: https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2021/08/back-to-school-update-presentation_08-18-21.pdf

The testing was supposed to happen for 10-20% of asymptomatic students weekly. Instead, the week of September 6, DCPS performed 4080 tests—less than 10% (see here: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/node/1558951). Far worse is the fact that the same chart reported only 26 positive student cases in DCPS—while another chart showed that no matter what day of that week you pick, MANY more DCPS students were actually infected with covid (see here: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/page/dc-public-schools-dcps-data).

[7] See here for a more thorough outline of the group’s excellent testing protocols: https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/dcps-covid-testing_-what-we-need-now-e28093-dc-families-for-covid-safer-schools.pdf

[8] All of these, plus more recommendations, are in Sandra Moscoso’s testimony to you on 9/21/21, available here: https://w6pspo.org/2021/09/23/sandra-moscoso-testimony-dc-council-roundtable-on-dcps-and-dcpcs-school-reopening-september-21-2021/

[9] See here for information about the contact tracer disparity: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/09/19/dc-school-covid-quarantine-testing/

See here to see how contact tracing for students works in reality in DCPS (i.e., not well at all): https://twitter.com/DLPetroshius/status/1438634378134007810

See here for its failure with a DCPS teacher: https://twitter.com/teachergimbel/status/1439942679874375689

[10] It is not just DCPS that is slow. One website for reporting (https://coronavirus.dc.gov/page/dc-public-schools-dcps-data) is not updated daily. Yet another website (https://coronavirus.dc.gov/data/schools) is not only not updated even weekly, but gives NO metric by which anyone knows what the case numbers represent in time (that day? that week?). The only thing that is clear is that the cases are not cumulative.

[11] Not only do schools lack what was supposed to have been provided, but the reason is due to foot-dragging by DCPS since spring. DCPS has instead cited supply chain issues. See here: https://twitter.com/ScottGoldstein/status/1437735710258339843

[12] This was the experience of DCPS parent Danica Petroshius, which she recounted here along with a fellow parent whose family also became infected through school contacts: https://drive.google.com/file/d/133VEvnty7rfeNbafanZ0Wa1hlaF1kHA6/view

[13] Thanks to Mary Levy for finding guidance from Virginia (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/182/2020/10/Child-School_COVID-19_Booklet.pdf); Tulsa, Oklahoma (https://resources.finalsite.net/images/v1604073421/tulsaschoolsorg/wpqggsgdme6elsyxtgwd/District_COVID-19Response_English.pdf); South Carolina (https://scdhec.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/School-COVID-19-FAQ_FINAL_8.24.2020.pdf); Dane County, Wisconsin (https://publichealthmdc.com/documents/Child%20Care%20Center%20FAQ.pdf); and Oregon (https://www.mmdhd.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/School-Scenarios-How-to-Handle-Exposure-to-COVID-19.pdf), all of which require cohabitating students regardless of vaccination status to quarantine with their covid-positive cohabitants.

Right before the 9/21/21 hearing, a council member tweeted out that updated guidance on this was coming from DOH: https://twitter.com/chenderson/status/1440356738755031043?s=20

While that’s a relief, it does nothing to address the ills caused by the current policy; doesn’t address the need for children to quarantine in households where an adult is covid-positive nor erases the inexplicable distinction in policy between vaccinated and unvaccinated co-habitants; nor explains why it took DC so much longer than other jurisdictions to recognize the transmissibility of covid among children in the same household, even among the vaccinated.

[14] This website has DC’s latest covid case stats by age (warning: it isn’t pretty for the under 18 set): https://dccovid.com/ages.html

The spike in DCPS cases this week alone is horrifying: https://twitter.com/AndrewZeitlin/status/1440271870901686275

[15] See the group’s excellent work and recommendations here: https://w6pspo.org/2021/09/21/grace-hu-testimony-dc-council-roundtable-on-dcps-and-dcpcs-school-reopening-september-21-2021/

[16] This (and more) is laid out eloquently in this September 15 letter to the mayor and council: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeyqDeYBfxcvoqBay5NhK8nDbGtnPqjGtBVEBHxv99FWmoOdg/viewform

[17] Recent vaccination rates for vaccine-eligible DC children are very poor. See this chart, which DC education researcher Mary Levy created using DOH data: https://twitter.com/MaryLevy17/status/1439272324805632001

[18] Here’s a challenge: Does anyone in any DC agency or elected office know what each and every DC charter school is doing with respect to

–testing;

–family communication of tests;

–quarantining;

–instruction of students in quarantine;

–ensuring teachers and staff are not penalized for taking time off to quarantine or to take care of children in quarantine;

–student absence policies for covid; and

–student disenrollment policies for covid?

If not, why is that an acceptable stance for public officials in a pandemic with a deadly and highly transmissible virus with respect to publicly funded schools that educate nearly half of DC’s students?

[19] The mayor’s own reopening stats are completely at odds with the mayor’s own covid phase guidelines. Take the color-coded chart at this website, https://coronavirus.dc.gov/page/reopening-metrics

Here’s what the chart looked like on 9/14:

Here’s what the chart looked like on 9/15:

Here’s what the chart looked like on 9/19:

Yet, even though most color-coded boxes are not green, DC remains in the phase 3 green. This makes no sense—worse, it actively endangers children. For what purpose is this misrepresentation of reality being done?

[20] See this in a parent’s deconstruction of a letter from the deputy mayor in response to a plea for help after kids became infected with covid at school: https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/mark-up-of-dme-response-09-17-21.pdf

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

Alexandra Simbana

Committee on Government Operations and Facilities & Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing –

School Facility Condition During the Re-Opening for SY2021-2022

September 28, 2021

Hello, my name is Natalie Rose Simbana Leistikow. I am here before the Council again to let you know what is happening with students and teachers throughout the City. First, I want to say that it is because I’ve had excellent teachers at Cleveland Elementary that I’ve been able to learn the skills to come before you and speak up for students since I was very young.

Like all teachers, my teachers are dedicated, loving professionals and during this time of uncertainty of the pandemic they have given more and done more because they love their students. It is for them, that I am here facing one of my fears and speaking publicly.

My teachers are having to do their jobs without proper resources and in conditions that no one here would find sustainable. They prepared to welcome students back to school but their buildings were not ready, many throughout the city did not have proper HVAC or filtration systems making their rooms very HOT and unsafe! One of my former teachers even had nosebleeds as she tried to prepare her room in extreme heat. The schools were closed for over a year, so we knew students would need to return at some point. The buildings should have been prepared for them before school started.

Many schools do not have the technology they need for teachers AND students! Schools without enough computers are sharing devices and once again, students are having to take time out of learning so each person in the class can do some work on the computer. Even more stressful is that teachers do not have their teacher computers either. And many more do not have working Smartboards. Where are all the computers? We are not setting up our teachers for success and that hurts them and it hurts us too.

While I have not yet been to school in person, I care about my school, my teachers and my classmates. But this is about more than just my school or my class. Imagine I am a student from a school in your Ward in any part of the City. No school teacher, student or community should be experiencing these issues when it is already a stressful time. PTA’s and PTO’s no longer have the time or money to help fix these critical needs and they shouldn’t have to.

This is too much to expect from families, students and teachers. There should be a better system to REALLY help fix technology and school problems for us. I hope you can do something to help.

Thank you.

Natalie Rose Leistikow Testimony – DC Council Roundtable on DCPS and DCPCS School Reopening – September 21, 2021

Natalie Rose Leistikow

Committee of the Whole

Public Roundtable on Re-Opening District of Columbia Public Schools and District of Columbia Public Charter Schools for School Year 2021-2022

September 21, 2021

Hello, my name is Natalie Rose Simbana Leistikow. I am here before the Council again to let you know what is happening with students and teachers throughout the City. First, I want to say that it is because I’ve had excellent teachers at Cleveland Elementary that I’ve been able to learn the skills to come before you and speak up for students since I was very young.

Like all teachers, my teachers are dedicated, loving professionals and during this time of uncertainty of the pandemic they have given more and done more because they love their students. It is for them, that I am here facing one of my fears and speaking publicly.

My teachers are having to do their jobs without proper resources and in conditions that no one here would find sustainable. They prepared to welcome students back to school but their buildings were not ready, many throughout the city did not have proper HVAC or filtration systems making their rooms very HOT and unsafe! One of my former teachers even had nosebleeds as she tried to prepare her room in extreme heat. The schools were closed for over a year, so we knew students would need to return at some point. The buildings should have been prepared for them before school started.

Many schools do not have the technology they need for teachers AND students! Schools without enough computers are sharing devices and once again, students are having to take time out of learning so each person in the class can do some work on the computer. Even more stressful is that teachers do not have their teacher computers either. And many more do not have working Smartboards. Where are all the computers? We are not setting up our teachers for success and that hurts them and it hurts us too.

While I have not yet been to school in person, I care about my school, my teachers and my classmates. But this is about more than just my school or my class. Imagine I am a student from a school in your Ward in any part of the City. No school teacher, student or community should be experiencing these issues when it is already a stressful time. PTA’s and PTO’s no longer have the time or money to help fix these critical needs and they shouldn’t have to.

This is too much to expect from families, students and teachers. There should be a better system to REALLY help fix technology and school problems for us. I hope you can do something to help.

Thank you.

.

Alexandra Simbana Testimony – DC Council Roundtable on DCPS and DCPCS School Reopening – September 21, 2021

Alexandra Simbana

Committee of the Whole

Public Roundtable on Re-Opening District of Columbia Public Schools and District of Columbia Public Charter Schools for School Year 2021-2022

September 21, 2021

Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and Councilmembers. Like many parents, we began the summer with hope about our 9-year-old daughter returning to school in the Fall, and hoped the country had finally turned the corner on the pandemic.

Instead, we are now in the fourth wave.  Case counts are rising higher and faster than they were when our schools shut down in 2020. For our family, the danger is real and it is personal.  Last year, I had a life-threatening case of COVID that landed me in the hospital for nine traumatic days, and has left me with long COVID complications ever since.  Because I am immunocompromised, a simple cold I caught from my twin toddlers in late August quickly developed into pneumonia.  It took four rounds of antibiotics and I was nearly hospitalized again.

We also faced the reality that schools are not prepared for the surging pandemic.  We were promised better ventilation.  Instead, my daughter’s classroom had a broken HVAC system, with temperatures soaring into the high 80s.  We were promised strict quarantine and isolation protocols.  Instead, we learned that when a child tests positive, the other students in the class aren’t considered a “close contact” as long as their desk isn’t immediately adjacent to the positive case.  It is a fantasy to believe that kids don’t mingle in the course of a school day or breathe the same air.  DCPS’ quarantine and isolation protocols seem to have been designed by someone who has never been in a fourth grade classroom. These kids don’t live in their lives simply based on the close contact map.

Given my immunocompromised status and our deep concerns about safety, our daughter is learning from home, using workbooks and online portals to complete the same lessons as her classmates, and sending homework to her teachers. 

This would be easier if the Mayor had not prohibited our schools from establishing a virtual option.  The Virtual Academy that does exist is only available to students with serious health conditions, but not for situations like ours where the student lives with an immunocompromised person.  We would prefer she be in school – if that were a safe option.  I am vaccinated, but she is not eligible.  I could not live with myself if she gets sick.  We also worry what happens if she brings the virus home and I am reinfected with a breakthrough case – in my compromised state, would I be able to recover?

Until the first day of school, it remained an ongoing discussion in our family about whether to send our daughter to school. What would we do? We decided we would take it week by week and keep our eyes on the numbers but at least our daughter would continue to learn thanks to the support from her teachers and her school.  But when the school reopened it was clear that the building wasn’t ready, teachers didn’t have the curriculum they needed for teaching, school devices for teachers and students weren’t available and the more you looked, the messier the reopening “plan” looked at every school across the city. It was clear, as hard as teachers could try, these greater issues were outside of their individual school’s control and it would be just a matter of time before there would be a mountain of COVID cases everywhere. The problems were not limited to one school, instead it was clear these were systemwide issues. The lack of preparedness, the lack of resources for teachers and schools, the realities of reopening were not being addressed or even acknowledged for school communities – ALL of that is what lead many parents to keep their kids home. And many more parents had the same concerns but felt they had no option but to send their kids back into unsafe conditions for in person learning because DCPS didn’t provide any real options for families to access virtual learning. Students/children are all members of families and the health conditions of those families are not considered by DCPS to be material information to make available a virtual option for students. But there is a great need for virtual learning for those students who have been sent home due to exposure or COVID positive cases. These children are also being left behind without any educational plans to pivot to when they are suddenly returned home to quarantine.

There is so much that is wrong with the reopening. Parents continue to grasp for information which should be readily available. Our children are unprotected by lack of testing and delays with notifications and our teachers are being asked to risk their own health on a daily basis. Their pandemic is still very much at its height because the comfort of a vaccine for those under age 12 is still in their distant future. But even after a vaccine we will need to continue to take precautions to keep everyone safe. Below are recommendations of what we need to continue to do but with more efficiency and reliability.

I am working with a coalition of DCPS and charter school parents from across the city (DC Families for COVID-Safer Schools) who want to see BOTH better safety protocols for in-person learning and a workable virtual option.

We strongly urge the following:

  • Expanded testing, taking advantage of free, federally funded programs to test as close to 100 percent of the students and teachers as possible.
  • Faster notifications that provide better information to the entire school community
  • Greater transparency in data reporting
  • Outdoor lunch – available to all students, in all wards
  • Improving ventilation and filtration in classrooms
  • Making quality masks available to all students and teachers and ensuring that they are worn correctly.
  • Better social distancing protocols
  • Establishing a virtual option for families who need it or want it. Furthermore, given how unpredictable the pandemic is and the fact that outbreaks can spread out of control very quickly, we should be ready to pivot to virtual learning at a moment’s notice if necessary. We still aren’t where we need to be on digital resources. Teachers still don’t have devices, Smartboards are non-functional at a critical time of need and many schools are still not at 1:1 devices for students.

Lastly, I want to raise the struggle of many families like my own who have chosen to keep our children home due to rising COVID numbers and family health complications which place us at greater risk. Each family is making choices based on their situations during an emergent time. These families and students should not be penalized when they can clearly demonstrate continued learning, attendance through the online programming and efforts above the norm. These families should not be cut off from their schools because their medical needs place them in great danger of health complications from COVID. If a virtual learning option was already in place to help students who move into quarantine, then families of immunocompromised would be able to be serviced without more of a burden. But the truth is DCPS has not planned to help children continue to learn during quarantine and that is a disservice to students and their long term learning.

Members of the Council: the reopening plan is broken.  Our students and teachers are at risk.  We need you to step in and take action.

Thank you.

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

Mary Levy

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.[1] 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.[1]

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? 


[1] 2020 Master Facilities Plan Update, December 2020 and Annual Enrollment Audit, Fall 2020.

[1] https://twitter.com/DJoseph31/status/1441517560701374465/photo/1


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

Heather Schoell

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. We need a COVID vaccination mandate for all who are eligible; nothing will change in school COVID safety until that’s done.

Thank you.

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.


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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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Sandra Moscoso Testimony – DC Council Roundtable on DCPS and DCPCS School Reopening – September 21, 2021

Sandra Moscoso
Testimony

on behalf of the DC Open Government Coalition

September 21, 2021

Good afternoon Chairman and Councilmembers. I am Sandra Moscoso, a DC Public Schools (DCPS) parent and a Board Member of the DC Open Government Coalition (DCOGC). Today, I am providing testimony on behalf of the DCOGC highlighting the lack of transparency around DCPS safety measures, building readiness and Covid protocols for in person learning. 

On DCPS’ reopen website, they boast “more than $24 million in HVAC upgrades to improve filtration and ventilation in every DCPS building.” This is misleading, as in reality, in the weeks that led to reopening, we saw teachers across the city post shocking photos of stifling hot temperatures and classrooms with stagnant air. While DCPS deployed temporary spot cooling units in some cases, three weeks into the school year, we don’t know how many classrooms were impacted, or how many of those HVAC repairs are still outstanding.

  • The DC Department of General Services must make school building work orders public. This would go a long way towards helping DGS and Council hold contractors accountable with the help of communities directly affected by these classroom spaces.
  • Transparency around building health and safety is critical not only in the time of Covid and has been a long-term problem. Council cannot let this go any longer.

DCPS and DC Health are not following through on their own Covid protocols.

DC Health and OSSE/DCPS must collaborate and quickly develop a school level dashboard to reflect school level vaccination rates, testing, positive cases, exposures, and notifications (see a great example developed by a Ward 4 teacher). Council must use every tool available to make this happen. I have heard the Mayor, Dr Nesbit and the Chancellor call upon the community to support Covid efforts, yet we are not being given the information to do meaningfully. Every single school community member should be able to access critical school level data at the very least weekly: 

Vaccination Rates

  • Percent of staff vaccination rates by school 
  • % of eligible students vaccinated by school

Testing

  • # of staff asymptomatic tests conducted each week by school
  • # of staff positive results from asymptomatic tests by school
  • # of student symptomatic tests conducted each week by school
  • # of student positive results from symptomatic tests by school
  • # of student asymptomatic tests conducted each week by school
  • # of student positive results from asymptomatic tests by school
  • # of staff and # of student positive cases reported to DCPS (outside of symptomatic tests) by school

Notifications

  • # of exposure notifications sent to staff each week by school
  • # of exposure notifications sent to families each week by school

Quarantine

  • # of exposure notifications sent to staff each week by school
  • # of exposure notifications sent to families each week by school

While the above is a request for DCPS transparency, it’s important that we recognize there are many families who currently have students enrolled in DCPS and in DC public charter schools. Transparency must apply to both sectors, and all schools.

Finally, as a parent I want to fully express support for the sensible safety measures and call for virtual learning for those who want it, that “DC Families for COVID-Safer Schools” have proposed. 

Every day, families are being asked to trust DC government with our lives by forcing students into school buildings during a pandemic. However, DC government refuses to trust us with critical information about the state of health and safety within those buildings. 

I reiterate and implore you to protect us all by leveraging every tool available to Council to bring transparency to DCPS reopening.

Thank you for your time.

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