Grace Hu Testimony – DC Council Roundtable on DCPS and DCPCS School Reopening – September 21, 2021

Grace Hu

Digital Equity in DC Education

Testimony

September 21, 2021

My name is Grace Hu. I am a DCPS parent and one of the co-leads for the Digital Equity in DC Education parent coalition. Since 2018, our parent group has advocated for a comprehensive multi-year technology plan to ensure that all DCPS students and schools have access to devices, tech support, digital literacy skills, and internet. Today I’d like to provide a status on DCPS technology and urge you to push DCPS to ensure that all schools are tech ready ASAP, not only to prevent further disruptions to learning but also to ensure students can continue to learn in the event of a quarantine or broader shift to virtual learning.

In many cases, the technology challenges we are seeing reflect similar themes that you will hear about other DCPS challenges, including:

  • Even when the funding and policy are in place, the school system has difficulty executing.
  • When adequate technology supports are not centrally and comprehensively provided to every school, there is wide variation in tech resources as well as policy and procedure implementation at the local school level, which exacerbates inequities.

Our testimony to the Council of the Whole from March 2021 highlighted the need to be tech ready at the start of this school year, stating, “We do not need tech challenges to create additional disruptions and barriers as students and teachers work hard to close learning gaps created or exacerbated by the pandemic.” Currently, there are instances in which technology is largely working for schools, but there are also situations in which technology challenges are creating disruptions and barriers for students and teachers.

Devices

Despite the DCPS policy that every student in grades 3-12 and every teacher will be issued a device, there are still schools in which students and teachers are lacking devices. That lack of devices means:

  • Logistical challenges for beginning-of-the-year online assessments
  • Limited access to online programs being used as part of in-school instruction
  •  Teachers and students will not be ready to quickly move to virtual learning during quarantines

The tech situation varies from school to school. For example, in my daughter’s third grade class at Amidon-Bowen Elementary, all students have been issued their own computer to use at school. During the school day, the class logs onto Canvas, DCPS’s online learning management system. If her class were to ever pivot to online learning, the students would know how to access Canvas and will have devices available to use. In contrast, another elementary school across town (in Ward 1) is short over 100 student devices and as of last week also had not received teacher devices.

I urge you to ask DCPS when every single school will have a 1:1 student-device ratio for grades 3-12 and a 1:1 teacher-device ratio. 

Asset Management/Tech Support

In a survey of school leaders that DCPS Central Office conducted over the summer, the top technology concern was asset management. Whether a school has adequate devices largely depends on whether the school was able to collect devices that were issued last school year, get accurate computer counts for their school inventory, and then request additional devices and get them delivered to the school before the start of school or during the first week of school. As we have mentioned before, many schools lack the staff capacity to regularly update their tech inventory, handle the logistics of device distribution and collection, and handle other aspects of tech management.  Until DCPS Central and OCTO provide comprehensive, organized asset management support for schools, there will continue to be wide variation in tech management at schools, depending on the ability and capacity of school staff who already have full-time responsibilities.

We understand that the additional 15 OCTO technicians funded by federal ESSER money will not be onboarded until October at the earliest. This is a system failure. Tech support should be firmly in place in advance of the school year to ensure that all classrooms are well-equipped, and any building infrastructure issues are resolved to enable seamless learning on Day 1. Tech preparedness and support is most critical at the beginning of the year when teachers and students are adjusting to their devices, online learning platforms, and apps, and participating in online assessments to inform teaching and learning.

We continue to hear that OCTO technicians are not always able or willing to address tech issues and that they recommend workarounds that are outside standard protocol rather than address the core issue (see Appendix for example).

Classroom Technology

We continue to hear significant frustration across DCPS schools with Smartboards in classrooms. Issues include:

  • Smartboards are out of warranty and non-functional
  • Lack of compatibility with teacher devices (older Smartboards or Promethean boards are not compatible with new teacher devices)
  • Inability to install needed software on teacher devices
  • Lack of training and support for teachers

The problems with maintaining and refreshing Smartboards, which have existed for years, reflect a larger issue with the school system’s piecemeal approach to technology. When tech purchases are made but not accompanied by a comprehensive plan for regular maintenance and refresh, teachers and students end up with a hodgepodge of classroom technology with minimal assistance from DCPS Central or OCTO.

All the issues I’ve highlighted with devices, tech support, and classroom technology make us highly doubtful that all schools will be ready soon to provide functional, high-quality online learning in the event of quarantines or a larger pivot to virtual learning due to COVID-19.   

Internet

Regarding home internet, hotspots and LTE-enabled devices purchased during the pandemic remain in school inventories. However, policies for taking technology home vary by school.

Regarding school internet (i.e., WiFi inside school buildings), we continue to hear of issues with school WiFi, including students being unable to connect to the DCPS WiFi network. It is not uncommon for teachers and high school students to use their own hotspots on cell phones to access internet while in the school building due to speed and stability issues.

Without strong oversight from Council, technology challenges will continue to be a barrier and distraction for our students and teachers. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

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Robert Henderson Testimony – DC Council Roundtable on DCPS and DCPCS School Reopening – September 21, 2021

Robert Henderson

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

Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s roundtable. My name is Robert Henderson. I am a Ward 5 resident and parent, and vice chair of the Ward 5 Education Equity Committee. Conversations with and surveys of Ward 5 parents and families as well as direct communication with Ward 5 school leaders inform my testimony today.

We have heard from many parents and educators alike that they are excited to be back at school. Some parents have been very pleased with the communication they have received about COVID mitigation from their schools and feel confident in the measures being taken. However, we are also hearing from families and educators that mitigation practices are exhausting and difficult to implement in practice, from getting three-year-olds to wear masks consistently and maintaining social distance in crowded classrooms, to using recommended ventilation practices in buildings with failing HVAC systems. Additional mitigation strategies such as outdoor lunch have proven difficult for some schools to implement due to resources constraints.

Given that all of our 5 to 12 aged and an estimated 65%[1] of our 12 to 17 student population in Ward 5 remains unvaccinated and that mitigation strategies are imperfect at best, there should be a by-right virtual instruction option without requiring a medical waiver available to all students in the District of Columbia. For a district that celebrates its offering of “school choice,” surely one option should be to protect one’s family from exposure to COVID-19. Absent such a by-right virtual option, there should be no penalty to families or their schools of last enrollment for nonattendance. Considering the situation of a quarantining “close contact” with a sibling without the same exemption makes clear enough the absurdity of the current policies. As it stands, the choice of one person to return the city exclusively to in-person instruction essentially requires families to accept exposure or penalty.[2] Many families are willing to accept the risk of exposure to COVID, grateful for the opportunity to send children back to school, but I have heard from both DCPS and Charter parents that they are not comfortable sending their children back to school until they are vaccinated. While some charter schools have been able to provide a virtual option, most have not, and the surest way to provide the option universally, as usual, is through our by-right school system.

Like many of our families, school leaders and teachers have also been put in an impossible situation. These educators have become, more so than ever, public health officials, now doing the work of coordinating testing, contact tracing, and interpretation of health guidance all while trying to educate students. I can’t say it better than this Ward 5 Charter school elementary principal, who had to shut down three classrooms in just the first three weeks of school: “this is completely frustrating and exhausting. Staff are scared (vaccinated and unvaccinated), parents are terrified, and we are expected to work miracles during this crisis. I am not understanding why the elementary schools are not closed until we get a vaccine. We are playing Whack-A-Mole and this is not fair to our students, staff or families. It is akin to having an umbrella during a hurricane.”

There remains a good deal of confusion about communication regarding COVID cases such as who is considered a “close contact,” and under what circumstances families will be informed of a case at their child’s school as well as about the vaccination status of faculty and staff.

The availability of a vaccine for our younger students will make an enormous difference in the risk taken by in-person students, and for that reason it is imperative that the city have a coordinated plan for vaccination in place and ready to implement as soon as it is authorized for younger students. The schools simply must be better prepared than they have been to date.

On preparation, it is utterly unfathomable to me that schools opened with inadequate HVAC systems. At least three of Ward 5’s 13 DCPS schools opened with stop-gap HVAC measures such as spot coolers, which by the way are incredibly loud and make it difficult for students and teachers to hear each other, particularly when wearing masks. This after months of requests to DCPS and DGS. DCPS and DGS simply must do better to have our school buildings safe and ready for students. I will have more to share on this and related topics at the upcoming facilities hearing.

Another main concern during reopening has been pedestrian safety in light of significant traffic control challenges. Noyes Elementary could use more crossing guards. Browne Education Campus now has a crossing guard but did not at the beginning of the school year despite requests. Two Rivers Young needs a crossing guard on their early dismissal day. The latter two campuses are located in an area with only two perpendicular streets serving 5 school campuses including the newly opened Two Rivers Middle School and School Within a School @ Goding Swing Space. Phelps High School still has no flaggers or safety measures after months of pleading and requests. Each of the schools are doing their best, but the diffusion of responsibility for various parts of the infrastructure among DDOT and DGS have made it difficult to coordinate solutions, and the threat to student safety remains very real.

Additional concerns raised by school leaders include issues with COVID testing. While pleased with the city’s testing system overall, leaders note that it is difficult for the youngest kids to produce sufficient drool. It would help to have supplementary testing via shallow nasal swab (even though this would require adding another vendor.) It would also help if in the city’s program a saliva kit could be sent home with kids who are quarantined due to close contact so that they could self-administer the test on day 4 or 5 from exposure. Currently, families have to make arrangements to go to a testing site, which is a barrier.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I will have more to share regarding facilities needs next week.


[1] Estimate by Dr. Mary Levy, https://twitter.com/MaryLevy17/status/1439272324805632001.

[2] Except for the relatively few who have had medical waivers approved.

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Elizabeth Mitchell Testimony – DC Council Roundtable on DCPS and DCPCS School Reopening – September 21, 2021

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE 

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COUNCIL

Roundtable on School Reopening 

Elizabeth Callanan Mitchell September 21, 2021

I am testifying here today both as a member of the Executive Committee of the Ward 3 Democrats and as the parent of two DCPS elementary students. 

In April 2019, Ward 3 Democrats passed a resolution that asked for the Mayor and City Council to increase transparency, accessibility, and accountability while also giving significant weight to the needs and wants of the communities our schools were built to serve. 

As you have already heard today, it feels as if the Mayor and DCPS have been failing miserably at all of this. Rather than meeting families and students where they are and ensuring they are getting the services and education they need and are owed, we’ve witnessed the powers that be treating our schools as if they are a business. Releasing school plans less than two weeks before the beginning of the school year not only further erodes trust, but it also leaves families and students with no other options when confronted with a plan that was clearly designed to maintain enrollment numbers and keep schools open rather than keeping students educated, healthy and safe. It also fails to acknowledge the Delta variant at all. 

In June 2020 we asked the city to meet the anticipated public demand for free COVID testing and screenings, fully fund mental health and wellness programs for the city’s children, commit to no budget cuts for schools in the midst of this pandemic, and establish a dyslexia screening, treatment and prevention pilot program. 

From what I’ve seen as a parent, DCPS is failing at all of these goals. There is not nearly enough COVID testing. This administration seems to have ripped a page out of the Trump playbook-if we don’t test for it, we won’t find it! Well it’s certainly at our school. We’re currently tied for second in the city for the most COVID cases but the WORST part is all of our cases were caught with independent testing conducted at the private expense of the families in our school. A year ago almost to the day, Ward 3 Democrats hosted a meeting focused on this very subject that included Professor Michael Mina who talked at length about how important COVID testing was for a safe return to school. Apparently the Deputy Chancellor was more focused on her own comments because it appears DCPS listened to none of what Dr. Mina had to say. 


Parental volunteers in our community are working on their own contact tracing because they couldn’t wait on DCPS. Our ability to provide special services to our students is severely curtailed by the fact that many of our offices used for these services are in a part of the building with a broken HVAC and DCPS will only provide filters for classrooms. Our teachers and staff are stretched so thin trying to teach, contact trace, monitor for proper mask wearing and maintain their own health that I have no hope of them being able to participate in any sort of dyslexia screening or training programs which we need now more than ever. Rather than holding school budgets harmless, I see school administrators across the city being pressured to increase enrollment and keep students in seats by any means necessary until October 5th-not because it’s what’s best for the health, safety and wellness of our students or their education but because those are the metrics they need to meet to satisfy the administration. Rather than staffing up for the next 10 years, I see systems in place that are forcing teachers out when we already have a terrible retention rate. We need more Covid testing, more teachers, a virtual option for the students who need it, and quarantine protocols that actually acknowledge what Delta is and how it works. It would help me sleep at night to hear the Chancellor just say “Delta” once.

Thank you. 

Outdoor Public Hearing on DCPS Reopening, Tuesday, 9/21 @ 5 pm

For those who are interested, the DC Caucus of Rank and File Educators is holding an outdoor public hearing on DCPS reopening on Tuesday, September 21, at 5 pm at Watkins Elementary School (420 12th St., SE). The hearing will focus on increasing virtual options for those who want it, more transparency around close contacts/contact tracing, and more and better covid testing. Attached is a flyer about the hearing.

Suzanne Wells

W6PSPO Meets September 21 @ 7pm

Dear Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization members,

1. W6PSPO will meet on Tuesday, September 21, at 7 pm. We will discuss the following:

– Safe reopening of school. We will hear a report out from Grace Hu on the Family Survey that all eight ward education councils co-sponsored. Over 570 responses were received in the first week since the survey was distributed. The survey results to date are attached.

– Letter written by Danica Petroshius and Shelley Brown, CHML parents, whose unvaccinated six graders tested positive for covid since the start of school. The letter calls for strengthening policies to keep students and families safe in our schools.

– Open discussion on how lunch is being handled at schools, communication about covid cases, quarantine procedures, covid testing, and any other topic you want to discuss about safe reopening.

If you registered for a previous W6PSPO meeting, the link you received for that meeting will work for this and future W6PSPO meetings. If you don’t already have the meeting link, you can register at
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAudOqsqDorHdOqNZKiWVfvLL0TPp_az3Wp.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

2. Walk-to-School Day is Wednesday, October 6. W6PSPO is planning a covid-safe event at Lincoln Park. Please register your school. More information to come!

3. The Capitol Hill Community Foundation’s Fall 2021 grant deadline is Monday, September 27th at 6pm. Grants of up to $2500 are available. The CHCF is very generous in awarding grants to schools on Capitol Hill.

4. Attached is the current roster of PTA presidents. Please let me know, if your school has any changes to the roster.

5. If you would like to stop receiving e-mails about W6PSPO, please let me know and I will remove your name from our e-mail distribution list.

Hope to see you on Tuesday!

Suzanne Wells

Survey responses Sept 16 with filters pivot tables.xlsx

Response pie charts and graphs from google forms as of Sept (2).docx

Letter to Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor Kihn, Chancellor Ferebee 09 12 21.pdf

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

Open Letter to Mayor, DME, Chancellor – Alerting leaders of Critical Deficiencies in Covid Safety Policies

September 12, 2021 

Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor Kihn and Chancellor Ferebee, 

We, Shelley Brown (Ward 7) and Danica Petroshius (Ward 6), both parents of children at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, write to ask you to urgently strengthen your policies to keep students and families safe in our schools. The data changes daily but there are multiple schools with new cases every day. The virus is spreading quickly across our schools. And we know in our one school it has begun to spread. While one child had a case last week Wednesday, we know that since this past Friday, we personally know of 4 cases just through our 

over-the-weekend-networks of parents, not the public reporting yet. The numbers of cases in schools are growing quickly causing confusion, fear, disruption and increased inequity. We have to do better, now. 

We write on behalf of hundreds of parents and grandparents we are in contact with from all 8 wards in our school and across the city. We also write with in-depth knowledge of how the system is really working versus the spin and talking points. Danica’s son, a 6th grader who is 11 and therefore unvaxed, contracted COVID the first week of school and has since spread it to his sister and mom (Danica) who are both vaccinated. We are hoping her husband/their Dad (also vaccinated) is spared but we keep testing. Shelley’s daughter, (a 6th grader, too young to be vaccinated) just got results today, Sunday, from a test taken Thursday and she is positive. The two parents and one other daughter are all vaccinated and tested negative today, but will test again this week. We both have spent 18 months keeping our families safe from COVID – the only thing that has changed in our lives is going to school. Luckily for us so far, our symptoms are relatively mild or asymptomatic. But for families that have any underlying conditions, elderly family members in the same household and lack of technology access during quarantine, we see clearly now how scary, misguided and inequitable this system you set up is. 

We include here an Appendix A that is the communication that we both chose to share with our affected classrooms and school so that you understand what it actually looks like on the ground. We share it exactly as we shared it with our community. We also include as Appendix B the communication that we receive from DCPS when there is a case in the school. You can see how completely inadequate it is. While DCPS cannot share private information about individuals (rightfully so), it can do better to inform families and help them stay safe. It is also clear to us that in too many schools we are creating super-spreader events on a daily basis in ways that can be mitigated by top-down knowledge-sharing, training, resources and policy. In addition, it is clear to us that you have prioritized “in person” over “safety” and “learning.” In fact, our policy should prioritize safety and health, then address quality learning systems for all that includes in person and virtual options. That is the only way to achieve all of our health and learning goals with equity. 

While this letter is only signed by two parents as we contemplate the fear, anger and guilt we have managed since Danica’s son tested positive last Tuesday (our children are in the same class), and the amount of learning we have done, we can confidently say there are hundreds if

not thousands of families that feel the same way as we do. We ask you to move quickly to implement safer conditions and better, equitable learning across our city’s schools. We can’t wait and hope it all gets better when there are vaccines for under 12. It will take time to implement those vaccines and there will continue to be breakthrough cases (ours is a great example of both unvaccinated and breakthrough cases) – we must mitigate and plan now for the long-term. 

The problems are at all levels: the rules set by you are too low – they should set the highest standard for safety, not the lowest, resources are inequitable across the city, and implementation of the rules is wildly inconsistent across the city. Your rhetoric does not match reality. Parents across the city have shared with us, at a minimum: 

  • “Layered mitigation measures” that you purport to have (see Appendix B) are not happening the way you say they are; they are under-resourced or not effectively implemented at schools across the city 
  • Safety resources like masks and sanitizer are not available readily in every school
  • Outdoors is a huge mitigator and hardly used because of lack of resources, planning and know-how
  • Testing is spotty at best or not happening (our school had the random test pool set for the 2nd week and the testers never showed up) 
  • Testing set-up is often a super spreader event being held inside with multiple groups of kids coming in and out of the same room 
  • Mask wearing is inconsistent 
  • Distancing is inconsistent 
  • Air quality is highly in equitable and inconsistent 
  • Lack of open virtual option is putting families at serious risk 
  • Lack of learning plan in quarantine 
  • Confusion from schools about quarantine rules regarding different timelines and sibling impact 

We are glad that DC started with where the CDC started on how to plan for in-person learning. But we expect you to set that as the floor and set the gold standard. Instead you have made the CDC guidelines the ceiling and we are seeing high spread across schools. Two weeks into school should provide a massive learning opportunity to improve your systems swiftly. 

As we have gathered information from families in our school and across the city, we see the following as areas that can be strengthened quickly and would have a good chance of curbing spread across all schools: 

Transparency: Parents are mostly left in the dark and notification times vary widely from 24 hours to 4 days. We have chosen to treat our situations with full transparency (example Appendix A). We understand with privacy you can’t name individual children. But you can do better. DCPS said it would inform families at the classroom level – but it has not; DCPS only announces school-level case notification. “The school system says it will inform families any time a case is detected in their child’s school or classroom.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/bowser-schools-delta-virus-reopen/2021/08/18 /be21c90c-004d-11ec-ba7e-2cf966e88e93_story.html and in the Mayor’s briefing (Slide 31) https://mayor.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/mayormb/release_content/attachments/Back-to-S chool-Updated-Presentation_8-18-2021.pdf. Yet this has not happened. Only families with close contact in the classrooms get notified which are few. Whole classrooms are not notified. Families want to and deserve to know at the class-level so that more families are prompted to test and be watchful to curb spread. We recommend: 

  • Expedite notification time to class, school and public 
  • Notify the entire class with the case, not just the few close contacts 
  • Notify the school community of the class and grade 
  • Recommend siblings stay home and test before coming back to school 

Testing. Testing is too little and inconsistent. At our school, last week our Principal arranged for a random test group and the testers did not show up on the arranged day! In another school, they tested only a few of the students selected then left. If we are to catch asymptomatic and mild cases to curb spread, we need much more testing than 10-20% and we need it consistently. We should: 

  • Test many more kids weekly and hold the system accountable for doing it well ● Make free testing in school easy and widely available including equipping schools with tests and moving free testing vans in locations close to schools to cover all DCPS schools. For example, one van near our school would allow our school, Ludlow Taylor, JO Wilson and Stuart Hobson, at a minimum, to test easily and still serve the broader community 
  • Ensure schools have testing resources so that when there is a case in a class/grade, those students can be tested right away in school 

Require Lunch Be Outdoors and Provide Necessary Resources. Indoor lunch in schools is a high-risk, potential super spreader activity that is happening in most schools but should be minimized. Schools should provide only outdoor lunch with their class cohorts and only inside in highly inclement weather. The city should provide every school with tents, tables and chairs as well as best practices on how to do this well. Immediately. We acknowledge that you have said that not every school has accommodating outdoor space. To shut down outdoor mandates and supports for those who do is wrong. Mandate and resource every school to eat and COVID test outdoors. Where it is impossible, provide specific trouble shooting for those schools based on their unique circumstances which could include blocking off street space like we do for restaurants all over the city, leveraging nearby parks, looking creatively at each layout, opening every window that can be opened and every door at least six inches to allow for maximum airflow, increase the number of fans and filters those schools have. Be problem solvers for health in schools. We have to do our best to limit super spreader moments. 

More Strict and Clear Quarantine Rules. We have swung too far the other way and quarantine too little including telling families that it’s up to them to quarantine siblings. Common sense tells us that siblings would be most likely to get the virus. The CDC and you say that a sibling can go to school if vaccinated and has no symptoms even if another sibling tests positive. Yet if we look at implementation of that, we might learn that is a mistake. Danica’s family is a good example. Unvaccinated son had a fever, so both kids stayed home Tuesday. Son tested positive (result on Wed). School and doctor followed CDC guidelines and said that daughter should go to school Wednesday because she is vaccinated and had no symptoms. Then she had congestion on Friday so Danica kept her home and tested her. Results came Saturday as positive for daughter and Danica, who are both vaccinated. This means she was in school, contagious (according to CDC) and possibly infecting others on Wednesday and Thursday – because DCPS and CDC told her to be. As Danica reflects on following the rules, there is great guilt for doing so because she potentially infected others. In hindsight, it is just common sense that siblings in the same household would expose each other – likely in significant doses – during the most contagious times. We rely on city leaders as our experts to guide us in doing the right thing. Parents can’t be expected to be health experts. 

  • Recommend siblings quarantine and test after the 5-day window since exposure before returning to school 
  • Ensure all schools are clear on quarantine guidelines and provide schools with FAQs that help them answer the many questions parents have when there is a close contact phone call or letter 
  • Be more clear about quarantine notification – there is a lot of confusion and varied implementation by school leaders including when to quarantine when close contact and what to do if your child is a close contact from multiple people on different days during a class spreading event like ours (i.e. how long does a close contact of Danica’s son AND Shelley’s daughter – who tested positive on different days – quarantine?) 

Better solutions for our PK-ers that need to napBesides lunch, nap is another high-risk time of day. Per DC guidelines, nappers cannot wear masks during nap. Yet schools have not been given enough resources to ensure that they are safe during this time. 

  • Ensure that all schools have HEPA filters to cover every place there are nappers
  • Ensure that all schools have adequate cots and cleaning supplies for all nappers
  • Require schools to limit the number of nappers in a room to lower the chance of spread
  • Ensure that windows and doors remain open as much as possible for air flow 

Virtual Options for Families that Need It – Once one person in a household contracts the virus, there is a higher likelihood that others will too, even those who are vaccinated. But the current limited virtual option is based on student need, not family need. What about our families who have compromising underlying conditions or disability? You say to those families that they cannot do virtual because the child does not have the condition. But consider what happened to Danica’s family: Her son contracted the virus in school and he’s not of age to vaccinate. Now, two others in his family who are vaccinated have it. If any of us were compromised, particularly Mom, Dad, grandparent or other caretaker, and got really sick, the entire family would suffer even more on all levels, emotional, economic, educationally and health-wise. DC is short-sighted on FAMILY health and equity if we don’t offer an open virtual option. In addition, an open virtual option would also alleviate capacity numbers for in person learning so that distancing and other mitigation would be more possible on school sites. We need: 

  • A robust, quality virtual option for any that want it 
  • For those who have had to stand up to fight to protect their families’ health already and keep kids home, they should not be unenrolled or punished in any way for staying home and should in fact be given quality supports for virtual learning immediately 

We have hundreds of millions of federal dollars to be deployed towards exactly these kinds of mitigation efforts. We have to do better. 

As parents, we feel rage, fear, worry, guilt, shame and exhaustion all wrapped in one. And our experience is not unique. We write because we feel ethically obligated to share our stories and call for better so that other families, especially those who might be affected in more serious ways, will not go through this. 

Please contact us at any time as we would be happy to share more about our experience and ideas for strengthening our school system. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Shelley Brown 

CHML Parent of Two 

Ward 7 Resident 

Danica Petroshius 

CHML Parent of Two 

Ward 6 Resident 


APPENDIX A 

Timeline of Danica and Shelley’s COVID experience most recent at top From: Shelley Brown <shelleycarrbrown@gmail.com> 

Sent: Sunday, September 12, 2021 5:37 PM 

Good evening 6b family, 

I wish I could be reaching out to you with better news, but Khiya has tested positive for COVID -19. 

Timeline: 

9/8- last day at school informed to quarantine by school after 4pm 

9/9 took covid test 

9/12 Covid test came back positive (rest of family Khamani, my husband and I are all negative). 

I hope you all take the time and get your child tested. Khiya has NO Symptoms , No fever, nothing, if it wasn’t for her having to quarantine she would have still been in school. Khiya informed me that she sits at a lunch table with 7 other children, I would encourage everyone to please take your child to get tested, we are all scheduled to get tested again on Tuesday just to be safe. 

From: dpetroshius@yahoo.com <dpetroshius@yahoo.com> 

Sent: Saturday, September 11, 2021 2:24 PM 

To: ‘Friends of Capitol Hill Montessori’ <friends@capitolhillmontessorischool.org> Subject: My Family’s COVID Situation Update 

I’m sharing an update that I just sent to my children’s 6th and 8th grade classrooms – Please read and keep watchful of your families. 

—– 

I’m Danica Petroshius, Mom to Grace Whitsell (8th) and Max Whitsell (6th). I have an important update on COVID to share for transparency. You may want to read from the bottom up. I share

below the note I sent to the 6th Grace class Thursday. I have updates for all of you and will share with 6th Grade too. 

So Max, 6th, per below has been quarantining since Monday and he would have come back to school on the 17th

Timeline picks up after the below – I stopped 9/9 below and will pick up here: 9/9 

● everyone in the house seems fine 

● I notify all Friends of Montessori and 6th grade class about Max. 

● Grace (8th) goes to school 9/8 and 9/9 with 2 masks on (KN95 and surgical over it) and is careful – BECAUSE she is vaccinated and has no symptoms and that’s what DCPS and the Doctors tell us to do. 

● We continue to keep Max in his room quarantining. Only I go inside his room, with a mask, to check on him and change out dishes. 

9/10 

● Grace wakes up with some congestion. Out of abundance of caution we keep her home from school. She’s otherwise fine. I’m fine. My husband is fine. 

● 12:30 – Husband, daughter and I (all vaccinated) get tested at the Curative Eastern Market site – just in case. 

● Grace congestion lingers no one else sick 

9/11 

● 2 pm Curative test results come back – Grace and I are positive, husband is negative. ● I try not to fall apart TBH and start emailing – started with the school leadership, now you all 

I don’t know what to think of this. We quarantined Max. We are vaccinated. Yet here we are. We are going to watch carefully to ensure symptoms aren’t worse. 

I have NO IDEA what this means for our household quarantines – I will figure that out and report back. Of course Grace and Max will not be at school next week. 

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Please get tested. It is most likely this started somewhere in the school. And now we may have inadvertently spread it more – even though we are following ALL of the rules and vaccinated. This is a sneaky, devilish disease. Please take care and watch your family. 

Again, as always, I’m an open book. Text (202-744-4160) or email if you have any questions at all. I’m bracing for a LOT of calls from contact tracers so I am just not emotionally or physically able to talk by phone but will text or email as fast as I can.

Virtual hugs to all of our families – CHML is a great community of multi generational families and I am comfortable and happy to share as much as I can as I want everyone safe, safe, safe. 

Danica 

From: dpetroshius@yahoo.com <dpetroshius@yahoo.com> 

Sent: Thursday, September 9, 2021 12:57 PM 

To: ‘Friends of Capitol Hill Montessori’ <friends@capitolhillmontessorischool.org> Subject: FW: A Message from Principal Adutwum 

Hi Friends of Montessori – 

I am sharing to fill in about the below communication from Principal Adutwum/DCPS about a case in the school that you were all notified about. 

My name is Danica Petroshius, my son is Max Whitsell in the 6th Grade. This communication from PA about a COVID case went out because Max tested positive for COVID. As soon as we got the test, I alerted Principal Adutwum and she alerted DCPS/DC Health. I decided to share with the community for full transparency and some things I’ve learned in the process- as we are all learning and protecting best we can together. And I can’t commit that Max was only near 6th graders last week so I thought it best to share with everyone. 

HEADLINE: The good news is that Max is ok. He had a fever and fatigue for about 16 hours then was totally fine. We had him looked at by a doctor and all signs were good. We will struggle to quarantine because he does not want to! But we will do it because we have to. 

I’m sharing the timeline below so that you all know. I feel that transparency is more important than anything and I’m sharing as much as I can especially because I worry about kids/families that might have a more severe reaction to the virus. You can see our timeline and some things I’ve learned. When I notified Principal Adutwum of the test result (Wed 2 pm when I found out from Doctor), she and AP Hoagland went immediately into action to notify DCPS/DC health officials. They started contacting families closely affected quickly/individually and had a community wide letter by 1030 am this am. This is faster than I have heard of at some other schools. 

Max must quarantine in his room until the 17th(10 days from Monday when symptoms started). When I go in to check on him and feed him, he and I both wear a mask. My husband and daughter don’t go in his room. Doctor gave orders to really isolate. This is not a fun way to live. Just giving you the reality.

Timeline: 

8/30 school starts, Max goes to school with double mask (KN95 + surgical) and is old enough to know to keep them on and has been a good mask wearer for a year and a half (including at outdoor baseball where it was not required but he wore them in 90/100 degree heat). I can’t attest to all hours in school of course, but I’m trusting he wore his mask well whenever not eating. 

9/2 Thursday Max is part of random sampling COVID test at school. 

9/6 Monday (holiday) 6-7 PM my son has a fever. (No news on test results from Thurs yet) 9/7 Tuesday 

● AM son still has 100.3 fever. Make Dr. Appt. keep him home from school and my daughter in abundance of caution 

● 11 am all signs of fever gone 

● 1:43 pm email from school that his Thursday test is negative 

● 3 pm Dr appt, he looks good but we take test 

● 3 other (vaxed) people in family get negative test results 

9/8 Wed 

● Allow Daughter to school because no symptoms and vaxed per rules ● 1:30 pm Dr calls – son has tested positive for COVID (so has to quarantine until the 17th, daughter can go to school and out with mask always and no symptoms, we have to test every 3-5 days, I read recently that experts say should be 5 days to really catch tests) ● 2 pm I call Principal Adutwum. She immediately reports to DCPS and DC Health and the process starts for contact tracing and notifications etc. 

9/9 Thurs 

8:30 am I got a call from DCPS contact tracer. She just asked the timing of when Max has symptoms. She also gave me heads up about this rule which means likely no one will be a “close contact” because we saw the fever Monday, they would consider anything before Saturday NOT a close contact: Based on the updated guidance from DC Health, a student in a school setting is considered a close contact if they are within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes within a 24-hour window within 2 days prior to illness onset or positive test result. https://dcpsreopenstrong.com/health/#covid-19-reporting-protocols. This aligns with CDC but is very much concerning to me. We know most times COVID takes 4-5 days to incubate (recently hearing 5 is best). Fevers can take 24-72 hours to show up. But only 2 days to prove a close contact? She ALSO said that she doesn’t decide anything. “State” contact tracers will call me and they will decide what the close contact means etc. They have not contacted me yet.

9:50 am I send an email to Max’s class because I felt ethically obligated to let people know. I learned: some people did get notifications individually to stay home until the 13thto quarantine because they were close contacts; there is some confusion about quarantine and siblings from parents (I can’t answer that just sharing) 

10:30 am PA sends email to community (below) 

12:30 – as I write I still have not heard from state contact tracers though DCPS said I would. 

I couldn’t sleep last night because I feel an ethical obligation to share. So therefore my email to all of you. I have nothing to hide and feel that knowing is how we beat this thing ultimately. 

My analysis: 

● I appreciate that PA and AP Hoagland acted quickly as soon as I told them of the positive test (which was right after I heard from Doctor) 

● We as a family have been as safe as we can for a year and a half without any exposures and the ONLY thing that changed in our lives is going to school. I traced all our steps and with the average incubation periods and all that, and the fact that he was negative Thursday but positive Monday means he was most likely incubating during last school week. And the only place that I can see him contracting is school given that was his only activity that week. I’m not blaming the school, I’m trying to understand to help keep others safe. That is the whole point. Transparency, communication = more people safe and healthy. 

●There are a lot of parents across all schools going through the same thing. It is very hard for schools to implement all of the layering all the time (masks, distancing, air quality, etc) that is the best way to keep kids safe and so cracks open and the virus spreads 

● It’s unclear what DC Health/DCPS do to try to figure out how Max got it- what the contract tracing is PRIOR to him getting it. Is there an asymptomatic case in our school? Did it really come from school? I would work with the city in any way to try to figure this out to help others. 

● Vaccines work (even though there are breakthroughs I know) because Max is the only unvaxed person in our family and so far the 3 of us are all negative. We will continue testing. 

● While the CDC provides a floor I wish there were more safety measure in place above the floor and more resources for better implementation. 

● It’s unclear what quarantine learning means, I’m going to reach out to Max’s teachers.

● I read that experts are saying the safest thing is to wait 5 days to test because that’s more likely to show up if its there (5 days from exposure). So you can see why Max started school Monday would be negative Thursday (3.5 days) but positive Tuesday (over 5 days). That 5 day window also demonstrates that it was mostly likely contracted/exposed during those school days. 

● There is still lots of confusion about who is in charge of contact tracing and what the difference is between DCPS contact tracing (which was super minimal) and the “state” tracing which has not contacted me yet but DCPS contact tracer said the process is that they would contact me. But yet DCPS sent out this letter. So I’m really confused about the tracing process. 

Parent to parent, I will tell you this has been the worst 4 days. I have been mostly crying having difficulty talking and for those of you that know me, you know that’s not normal. The worry, the amount of communications I have had to do with the school/DCPS/health providers and research to keep him safe has disrupted work (in addition I can’t focus on anything at work because I’m so worried), trying to manage a kid in quarantine is hard, the feeling of shame/failure as a parent despite trying to do all I could to protect him, anger at the system and govt, and exhaustion. And this is all with a kid who seems to be having a light reaction to the virus. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if it wasn’t light. 

I know there is no perfect tracing and we can’t pinpoint exactly at this point but the odds are, given the timeline and the facts, that it was likely contracted at school. So please keep a look out and get tested if you feel any concern or see anything or just in case. You know sites are free all over DC. 

I am not trying to alarm anyone, and I’m not trying to cause a stir on anything. I just ultimately come down on the side of transparency. We have to know all we can to beat this virus ultimately. I am an open book (but no expert just learning as I go). If you have any questions, please email me or text/call 202-744-4160. I feel so terrible for Max/us and anyone that was near him during school. Hoping for the best for all. 

Thanks. 

Danica


APPENDIX B 

From: Cap Hill Montessori @ Logan <email@blackboard.com> 

Sent: Thursday, September 9, 2021 10:31 AM 

To: dpetroshius@yahoo.com 

Subject: A Message from Principal Adutwum 

A message from Cap Hill Montessori @ Logan 

September 9, 2021 

Dear Capitol Hill Montessori School, 

This letter is to inform you that an individual who was last present at Capitol Hill Montessori on September 3 has since reported a positive test for coronavirus (COVID-19). The individual is no longer on campus and will not return until medically cleared. 

As determined by the DCPS Contact Tracing team, DC Health, and in accordance with the district’s COVID-19 health and safety guidance, unless you have received instructions directly, your student has not been identified as a close contact of the positive individual and does not need to be tested or self-quarantine. 

Persons for whom we know were in close contact with the positive individual were notified and provided guidance on next steps, including how any students impacted would receive instruction during quarantine. 

For your awareness, DC Health defines a close contact in a PK-12 setting as, “Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, starting from two days before illness onset (or for asymptomatic infected people, two days prior to positive test collection) until the time the infected person is isolated.” 

Since DCPS has layered mitigation measures in place at our schools, students who were in a classroom and within 3 to 6 feet of another student who reported a positive test such that all were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks are not considered a close contact. This means that some classmates may not receive instructions to quarantine due to these measures. Additionally, upon notification of the positive case, and out of an abundance of caution, the building will be cleaned and disinfected, including classrooms, office areas, conference rooms, and other common areas. 

We all play a role in protecting ourselves, our family, and our school community from COVID-19. That is why we encourage you to take the Stronger & Safer Together Pledge that includes everyday steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep our community safe. 

● Regardless of your vaccination status, if you are waiting for a COVID-19 test result that was taken after symptoms, please stay at home until you receive a negative test result. 

● If you receive a positive test result OR are experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath — please stay at home and isolate from others in your household, notify your school immediately, and contact your healthcare provider. 

● We highly encourage our students and families to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Visit vaccinate.dc.gov to get started and find a free school clinic near you.

I know that this has been a trying time for our community. We will continue to keep you informed about our health and safety measures and work together to ensure we have a strong, robust, and safe school year. 

Thank you, 

Kim Adutwum 

Principal, Capitol Hill Montessori 

Ward 6 CM Allen to Host Back to School Town Hall August 26 at 8PM

Ward 6 Schools community, please join Ward 6 Councilmember Allen’s Back to School Town Hall on Thursday, August 26 at 8PM via Zoom. Register here.

Read more about this in Councilmember Allen’s recent back to school newsletter (excerpt below).

Valerie Jablow Testimony – State Board of Education Public Hearing: School Reopening – August 18, 2021

State Board of Education

Public Hearing

School Reopening

August 18, 2021

I am Valerie Jablow, a DCPS parent who finds it ironic that this hearing is being held virtually on the subject of kids soon returning to school in person.

If we are here virtually due to what the state board’s own website says is a “public health emergency,” it seems only fair to ask what we hope to achieve with in person learning during a public health emergency in which our city has thus far refused to mandate covid vaccinations and testing for all in all our schools.

I am sympathetic to parents who see their children (and/or themselves) unhappy and frustrated at home. I am also sympathetic to parents who fear vaccinations. But just as we know 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.

Without much cost or effort, DC can do more to protect families:

DC can have vaccine mandates for all staff and eligible students. As someone who became very ill as a child with a vaccine-preventable illness, I fail to understand what public health benefits anyone thinks not mandating covid vaccination will achieve. Ditto for regular testing of all in all our schools, and uniform and robust quarantine protocols that do not depend on whether one was masked or not.

DC also can have a robust and widespread virtual option using the tools of the last 18 months and the information we have gleaned through that experience. In person learning is wonderful and great—but right now, we know it is not safe for everyone. [We have heard about in person learning from SY20-21 and this summer and the reporting of cases. What we have not heard are estimated and/or expected numbers of reported cases with all students back in person]

Indeed, the urgency here is acute, as in less than 2 weeks, in classes and hallways, DC will see more than 50 THOUSAND unvaccinated public school kids every single day in close proximity with untold numbers of unvaccinated staff. [Based on the audited enrollment from SY20-21 of DC public school kids from preK3 through grade 6, all of whom would be less than 12, the current threshold for vaccination].

That’s on top of what is happening right this minute, as DC has rising case loads, including kids. [DC is hardly alone in the rising cases: Over 4 days this past week, the United States saw more than 2400 deaths from covid—more than all US military deaths in Afghanistan.]

And all of that comes with a frightening context in DC, as we continue to have no clear safety mandates for all our publicly funded schools, including universal testing and vaccination. Whose freedom does that represent? [It represents the freedom of DC charter operators, who are exempted from following any testing protocol that DCPS follows. Indeed, a pandemic is a terrible time to come to terms with the fact that DC’s publicly funded schools have widely variable health and safety requirements, whether for sexual assault, lead in school water, or COVID. Some charters may institute regular, universal testing. But some may not. Some may elect to adopt weak sampling akin to what DCPS did in SY20-21, well below the goal of 10% (see the story here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-schools-covid-tests-audit/2021/08/16/ace31f76-febb-11eb-85f2-b871803f65e4_story.html). Dealing with covid isn’t a highly individual choice, like wallpaper or ice cream—it’s a public health emergency and needs to be treated that way everywhere, especially as families may have kids in both charters and DCPS.]

For instance, DCPS’s testing plan provides for only a small portion of unvaccinated students will be tested—and only those who opt in for testing. [The form that parents are required to fill out charmingly has a liability waiver for the city in case a child contracts covid. Who’s being protected here? See the form here]. It costs the same amount to have an opt-out-only form, which would ensure a greater participation rate. As it is, we know that vaccinated people can have covid and transmit it—so why limit testing to only the unvaccinated? [The point may be to limit the numbers of tested, to artificially ensure that reported positivity rates remain low, which is politically much more appealing than the alternative. This goes directly to what many conservative political leaders have stated: the more you test, the more cases you have. Of course, that’s sophistry, because the more you test, the more cases you KNOW you have—and the greater the political problems.]

There is also the reality that DCPS has struggled to have equitable conditions across its schools, whether with fully functioning HVAC and plumbing, windows that can open, warm water, and adequate supplies of soap, paper towels, and toilet paper.[Last night during a meeting of the Ward 6 public school parents’ organization, DCPS representative Bijan Verlin stated, in response to concerns about masses of kids eating together in a cafeteria, that schools “may” be allowed to have outdoor lunch. So what is it: charters can do whatever they want, while DCPS staff “may” protect their students if they determine it’s for the best? The reality is that DCPS schools have never been encouraged to be creative or free except in getting rid of beloved staff (the vaunted “flexibility” in the face of intractable budget cuts). There are many ways to ensure safety: cohorting; specials in classrooms via Teams; lunch in classrooms; specialized instruction in classrooms via Teams; staggered arrival and dismissal; no use of shared spaces like gyms and cafeterias; strategic hallway and bathroom use; limiting class sizes; limiting staff interacting with each cohort; developing a plan B for simulcasting and other, quarantine-based learning. Are any of these freely adoptable by any DCPS school? We literally have THOUSANDS of professionals in DCPS whose thoughts and experiences are rendered mute in this, less than 2 weeks away from school.]

I hope we can agree that all of these are basic, and necessary for safety, in a public health emergency.

I hope we also can agree that in this public health emergency, virtual instruction is not just a stopgap for a tiny number of kids with specific health conditions or an impediment to “real” learning, but a basic and necessary tool to safeguard DC students and teachers. [The mayor’s press conference around school re-opening underscored the degree to which DC political leaders are determined to have in person learning at ANY cost. For example, the mayor declined to answer a reporter who asked under what conditions she would re-evaluate in person learning. On p. 34 of the slide deck presented, an outline of quarantine procedures made clear that if a student’s quarantining is not for school, but for another reason, parents are required to provide a written note that “must include the date of COVID 19 exposure; the length of time the student has been directed to quarantine by a medical professional or contact tracer; and the name, organization, and contact information of the medical professional or contact tracer.” Not surprisingly, the same press conference noted that 150 families applied for a medical exemption in DCPS for virtual instruction–and 98 were granted it. That’s out of more than 50,000 students. Ensuring no virtual option for most no matter what, and presenting hurdles for quarantine, is not a path to safety—at least for the public.]

I hope that as the only directly elected education oversight body in DC, you agree with a clear path forward for DC school safety: universal vaccine and testing mandates; robust virtual instruction for all who want it; guidelines that apply to all DC’s publicly funded schools; and DCPS ensuring equitable physical conditions. Thank you.

Stefany Thangavelu Testimony – State Board of Education Public Hearing: School Reopening – August 18, 2021

State Board of Education

Public Hearing

School Reopening

August 18, 2021

Hello, I am Stefany Thangavelu, a 4th grade DCPS parent and former LSAT member. My comments today pertain to access and choice pertaining to virtual learning while also mobilizing to ensure all in person learning is safe for children in DC.

While I strongly believe that in person learning is a more effective way to educate children and this is supported by tons of research, I also know that staying home prevents COVID and the majority of DCPS students are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. I believe everyone should have the choice to receive a high quality virtual instruction with DCPS and there is currently a petition that shows a strong demand for this option. (https://www.change.org/p/mayor-muriel-bowser-chancellor-lewis-ferebee-dc-schools-must-provide-a-virtual-option-until-children-under-12-can-be-vaccinated?) Given the alarming surge in Delta, many families are concerned about rapid spread in school. DCPS should take multiple mitigation efforts and ensure that a Virtual Learning Academy is available to all families in DC who are not able to return to in person learning for any reason. Meanwhile, next door in Arlington Public Schools they have invested $11 million into their Virtual Learning Program to ensure all families can have a robust high quality program with teachers trained to create healthy academic and socio-emotional learning environments. (https://www.apsva.us/school-year-2021-22/virtual-learning-program/) Unfortunately, many DCPS families are begging pediatricians to sign off on forms and scrabbling to find alternatives to in person learning. While I appreciate that IPL is more effective and the evidence supports the need to have students learning in person, I strongly believe that all families should have the right to receive a quality virtual learning opportunity until vaccines are available to all ages. 

My next point is that in addition to masks, DCPS should have mandatory COVID testing of kids and teachers weekly regardless of vaccination status to ensure containment and data on risk in the school community. We know that there are breakthrough cases with the Delta variant and that vaccinated individuals can transmit the virus to peers. There should be testing and quarantining protocols regardless of vaccination status when contact tracing indicates you are at risk of being infected. Vaccinated people can get and spread COVID, and be just as infectious. The window to prevent someone from spreading COVID forward starts 24 hours after exposure. Not asking vaccinated and masked kids to quarantine, and not notifying the whole class to get tested, seems likely to lead to more infections and more harm to our community as a whole.

The consent to test should also bemandatory, the same as immunizations. Families should be allowed to opt out but the default should be to consent. As part of enrolling your child in a public institution there should be a default to protect all children and this also keeps your child and your family safer by knowing if there is asymptomatic spread or infection. We can’t see this virus and it doesn’t even present symptoms in many people, the only way to trace and contain the spread is through testing. Why not test every child on the first day to get a handle on just how much COVID is coming to schools, and where clusters currently are located, this is invaluable intel for our health department. We can easily test and should test weekly to monitor and protect the entire community.

Finally, outdoor eating and learning should be scaled and investments made to close down streets or utilize public spaces beyond the school building as needed. We have done this for restaurants, why not for our kids??? There should be additional staff, tents and other supports for facilitating healthy outdoor learning and eating spaces. 

I thank all the educators and families who are working to support the safe and healthy learning at DCPS.

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