Suzanne Wells Testimony – State Board of Education Public Hearing: School Reopening – August 18, 2021

State Board of Education

Public Hearing

School Reopening

August 18, 2021

            My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization.  I want to thank the State Board of Education for holding this evening’s hearing on school reopening.

            Last night our organization held its monthly meeting, and we spent much of our time discussing concerns about school reopening.  While we had been hopeful for school reopening, the Delta variant has changed how we must approach reopening.  We know the Delta variant is more transmissible, that young children can become very sick or die from it, and that people who are vaccinated can become sick.

            Parents want their children to be back in school, but they want them to be safe.  Families spent the past year and a half being careful, and don’t want to take unnecessary risks when sending their children back to school.  While we appreciate the work DCPS has put into reopening schools, certain aspects of the plan do not appear to be driven by safety.  We listened to Mayor Bower’s situational briefing this morning, and were extremely disappointed by how little had changed in the plans to safely reopen DCPS.

            Virtual Option.  The greatest concerns are with parents who have children under the age of 12 who currently are not able to be vaccinated.  One parent of a young student said she didn’t feel comfortable sending her child back to school, and felt “boxed in” because there is only a virtual option for those who can get a medical exemption.

            Allowing more families of children under 12 to have a virtual option until they can be vaccinated would reduce the number of students in the school building and lower the risk of covid transmission.  I believe if the restrictions on a virtual option are lifted, most parents would support virtual instruction that is provided at a central level.  The Mayor’s briefing today did not expand virtual learning beyond medical exemptions, and even incorrectly implied that because they received a low number of medical exemptions that there was little interest in virtual learning.

            Lunch.  We all felt it was extremely low hanging fruit to change the current lunch plans.  The Mayor’s office wouldn’t host a banquet for a hundred adults right now so why risk students eating indoors in a cafeteria when there are many safer options available?  Students could eat outside where the risk of transmission is much lower.  Students could eat in their classroom with the same cohort of students they are spending most of their day with.  Parents who are able could pick their child up at lunch so they can eat at home. The Mayor’s briefing this morning pivoted slightly on students eating in the cafeteria, and said students could eat outdoors “where feasible. “  While we’re relieved eating in the cafeteria isn’t going to be mandated, we hope DCPS will go further to encourage school principals to actively pursue safer options. 

            Testing and Safety Protocols.  The current plan is woefully inadequate in its safety protocols.  The Mayor’s briefing today didn’t provide any enhanced testing and safety protocols.  Currently, there are plans to test only a percentage of students who opt-in for testing.  As others have said, “denominators matter.”  There should be a robust number of teachers, staff and students tested each week so covid cases can be quickly identified, and fully vaccinated people should be included in the testing.  The testing plans should be based on an opt-out policy.

            Given the close proximity most students will be in, it is recommended that the quarantine procedures be revised to include entire classrooms quarantining when a positive covid case is detected.

            Providing schools with high grade masks rather than the simple disposable masks they currently are given will also help reduce transmission.

            We understand we are all balancing risks.  The risks of keeping children out of a normal school situation versus the risk of a child or teacher or family member getting covid.  We must work to reopen schools safely within the bounds of what is possible.  Giving more families a virtual option is possible.  Eating lunch outdoors or in a classroom is possible.  Having more stringent testing and safety protocols is possible.  The Mayor clearly hasn’t listened to parents concerns about safely reopening.  We ask the SBOE to use its voice to help safely reopen schools.

W6PSPO Meets Tuesday, Aug 17, 2021 @ 7PM

Dear Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization members,

W6PSPO will meet on Tuesday, August 17, at 7 pm. 

  1. Dr. Kevin Washburn, manager of Library Programs for DCPS, will join us to share what DCPS is doing to ensure every school has a librarian this school year.  
  2. We will also discuss school reopening.  We all hoped we’d be in a better place at the start of this school year.   We are now two weeks out from the start of school, and in a rapidly changing situation with the highly contagious Delta variant, more children becoming sick with Covid-19, no approved vaccines for children under 12, and many people eligible for a vaccine remaining unvaccinated.  Our discussion will be an opportunity to share concerns and ideas for safely reopening schools.  
  3. Continue to help spread the word to anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated about the many ways to get vaccinated  in DC.  https://coronavirus.dc.gov/page/get-vaccinated 
  4. 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.

Upcoming Events

  • The State Board of Education is holding a public meeting on Wednesday, August 18, and parents are encouraged to sign up to testify aboutschool reopening.  You can sign up to testify here.  You must sign up by 5 pm on Monday, August 16.
  • Walk-to-School Day is October 6.  Registration will be opening soon.  If you have fun ideas for our annual event, or would like to be on the planning committee, please let me know.

Suzanne Wells

What are DCPS’ SY2022 Covid-19 Plans?

First day of school is 18 days away and we all have lots of Qs about Covid-19 safety.

Here’s what DC Health, OSSE and DCPS have shared… :

  1. If you’re eligible, get vaccinated! https://coronavirus.dc.gov/page/get-vaccinated 
  2. DC Health Guidance (August 6, 2021)  https://coronavirus.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/coronavirus/page_content/attachments/COVID-19_DC_Health_Guidance_For_Schools_Reopening_080621.pdf
  3. Helpful thread re OSSE tech call  https://twitter.com/wperkinsDC/status/1425506072660516878?s=20
  4. DCPS presentation (no Q&A) https://dcpsreopenstrong.com/parent-university/parent-university-getting-my-child-ready-for-school-this-year/
  5. DCPS Q&A (unfortunately lots of unanswered Qs in comments)  https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=548149529721220&ref=watch_permalink
    • Lunchtime plans lightly addressed at 23:33 in video. (H/T Eastern HS PTO)
  6. And since sharing is caring, mask recommendations for kids https://twitter.com/masknerd/status/1424219326631010306?s=19

Our next meeting is August 17 @ 7:00pm via Zoom. Register here to join us!

W6PSPO Meets Tues June 15, 2021 @ 7pm

Dear Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization members,
1.  We will hold our virtual monthly meeting on June 15 at 7 pm.  Our agenda for the meeting is:
– Budget advocacy wrap-up- Discussion of any challenges/issues your schools face at the close of the current school year- Continuation of our May 2021 discussion on what you value from W6PSPO, and what W6PSPO priorities should be for Fy21/22.  To help guide the discussion, please think about these questions:    a.  What are you looking to get out of W6PSPO next school year;
    b.  How can W6PSPO help support your school community; and
    c.  What speakers or topics are you most interested in for next school year?

2. Summer learning opportunities:
–  Information on the DCPS Summer Acceleration Academies is available here.
–  The Washington Community Fellowship is offering a S.T.E.M. Summer Program, an educational FREE day-camp, with age-appropriate games, activities, and lessons to engage upper-elementary and middle school students in STEM curriculum.
The camps are offered from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm, Monday – Friday during the following weeks with the following topics:
– Week 1: July 12 – July 16 – Space Exploration- Week 2: July 19 – July 23 – Climate & Conservation- Week 3: August 2 – August 6 – Science to make an Impact
Families and guardians can register and find more information at wcfchurch.org/stem

3.  On June 7, OSSE released the state plan for how the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP-ESSER) funds will be used.  In this plan, OSSE outlines three major priorities:  a.  a safe reopening, b.  supporting student and staff well being, and c.  promoting accelerated learning.

4. We will also be joined by Regina McClure, director of the Eastern High School Health Sciences Academy, who will share information about their pre-med programming and their EMT certification program.

Contact us at w6pspo@gmail.com for the zoom registration link.

Beth Bacon FRESHFARM Foodprints Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

and the

Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

Thank you to the Charis for convening this hearing to examine critical education issues post-pandemic. My name is Beth Bacon. I am a Ward 6 resident, a former DCPS parent, and with FRESHFARM, a DC-based non-profit that operates producer-only farmers markets, pioneering food access, and FoodPrints, which embeds hands-on food education in DC public elementary schools through academically aligned culinary and garden-based learning. Over the past 12 years, FoodPrints has provided significant return on investment for the city in the areas of health, whole-child education, academic enrichment, and environmental literacy. 

We are here as one of the established partner organizations that State Board members Gasoi and Sutter referred to earlier as a key part of the pandemic recovery puzzle. Our model provides a feasible, evidence-based approach to addressing achievement and opportunity gaps that were only exacerbated by the pandemic. 

After many months of virtual classes with us, our students and families were instantly energized when they could return to classes in our school gardens this winter and spring. Principals supported our outdoor programming this school year as a safe source of in-person joyful social connection as their students returned to school. Next year, our focus will be on providing trauma-informed whole-child and science education in our school gardens based on our FoodPrints curriculum.

Our holistic model is in high demand. With adequate funding, we could almost double the number of partner schools we’re working with – from 15 to 25 – primarily in historically underserved areas of the city. Schools reach out to us with the goal of bringing rich experiences to their students in the pursuit of equity in access to new nutritious foods and learning how to prepare them and equity in access to real-world learning experiences in natural spaces on their school grounds. Principals are eager to partner because we provide: 

  • “healing” experiences with social-emotional learning,
  • rich experiences to their students in the pursuit of equity,
  • a focus on science and health, 
  • expanded outdoor education and use of underutilized outdoor spaces, and 
  • joy and excitement at school.

As this Special Committee sets forth guidance on Covid recovery, we offer three recommendations that many others have talked about in this hearing:  

1. Include school-nonprofit partnerships, including FoodPrints, that provide meaningful experiential learning during the school day as a priority strategy for closing gaps. We echo other’s calls to reimagine our learning spaces not only for Covid recovery but also to help schools become more nimble for new challenges that may arise.

2. Give schools and partners more freedom to access funding for experiential education partnerships – starting with the transparency and flexibility for the DCPS $9m innovation fund Ms. Gasoi talked about. From a partner perspective, schools need flexibility in selecting models; partners need time to plan (which means funding needs to be available very soon in order to be ready for students on Day 1 in August), and both would benefit from partners being able to apply directly for funds as a way to reduce the burden on school staff and increase flexibility of solutions. 

3. We support the call for an audit of opportunities and equity in this space and suggest looking at these questions: How can the pursuit of equity be a driver of innovation – not an obstacle to supporting creative approaches? How can the community be involved in decisions about federal American Recovery Plan funds – and how can the city ensure Recovery investments are sustained after the federal money is gone? Partner organizations, including FRESHFARM, are ready to collaborate in this conversation.

Thank you for your time today.

Marion Babcock Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

and the

Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

Hello,
I speak to you today as a parent and the LSAT co-chair at the School Without Walls High School to address the staggering needs and the logistics that a successful return to DCPS schools will require.

This upcoming year will be the third school year in which DCPS leadership must confront the disruption and the impact of Covid-19 on student learning. Stakeholders need better leadership in our mayoral-controlled schools. Serving on the SWW LSAT, I saw first hand how DCPS’ leadership bred mistrust, anger, and created unnecessary burdens on all school communities. At the close of the 2019-2020 school year when the first reports and reactions to virtual learning came forward, DCPS failed to solicit principal and teacher feedback to plan for the present school year.

Had there been a multidimensional and integrative view of leadership between DCPS and the educational community, time could have been spent on supporting principal planning and creating innovations for teaching virtually. Instead precious energy was spent in dealing with the chaos, the disruptions, and with the constant advocacy to be included and heard.

In the next 13 weeks before the upcoming school year this is what mayoral-controlled school leadership must include:

  1. A chancellor who engages, listens, and supports his schools’ principals on the pandemic constraints and needs for their buildings, budgets, students and teachers.
  2. The 700+ strong DCPS central office needs to provide all teachers with mental health support, professional encouragement, and the innovations needed to grow through this crisis.
  3. The establishment and communication of vaccination requirements for students and teachers so that schools may adequately plan, budget, and secure resources for in-person and, quite possibly, hybrid learning.

Our schools can no longer sustain a top-down leadership approach in this pandemic. Strong leadership will realize that each of us is in a vulnerable position and that we have a shared purpose in addressing these needs together. 

Thank you for the opportunity to share my insights on a matter that affects all DCPS stakeholders.

Grace Hu Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery and the Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

Good morning, I am a DCPS parent and the co-lead for Digital Equity in DC Education. We are a group of DCPS parents who have been advocating for digital equity and technology supports since 2018. Achieving digital equity for DC students is not rocket science. In fact, we’ve been advocating for the same three things these past few years:

  1. 1:1 student-device ratio coupled with digital literacy training
  2. Robust technology support and asset management at the school level, so that the burden for managing and troubleshooting technology is not on teachers and existing school staff
  3. Improved technology infrastructure to support reliable, high-quality internet in school and at home

Technology is a part of modern-day education and will remain so after the pandemic. Before the pandemic, DCPS’s Office of Teaching and Learning had already been working on integrating online tools and curricula into instruction for years. I got involved in parent advocacy after seeing that my daughter’s school in Southwest DC had a shortage of working computers, even though the school required students to do online testing (including for PARCC), use online math/reading intervention programs, and had implemented a blended learning model in which students rotate between online learning programs and small-group teacher-led instruction.

Council Legislative Action

While the school system has started making investments in the short-term to address the most visible technology shortcomings (i.e., devices), DCPS still lacks a comprehensive, multi-year tech plan four years after the DC Auditor recommended that DCPS “create and make public a multi-year technology needs plan to define and provide adequate technology to each school.”We also need DC to develop a master internet plan to ensure all residents have access to high-speed, reliable internet.

Two recently introduced bills – the DCPS Technology Equity Act and the Internet Equity Amendment Act – will mandate the multi-year planning needed to get DC past band-aid fixes and having to relitigate every year how we should support technology and related supports for students. We need you to get these 2 bills to a vote and passed.

Council Oversight Needed

Without information provided in a timely and open manner, it is hard to assess the extent of tech challenges and the effectiveness of government actions to address digital equity. As a parent volunteer group, more than half our time and energy is spent trying to figure out how to get information from DC government. We meet with and send questions to the government agencies involved. Often it takes weeks to months to get a response, or we get a vague response that is not helpful. Occasionally, we resort to using FOIA to request information, but that process takes weeks and you must request a government record/document, which means knowing what document/record contains the information you seek.

With the end of the school year approaching, I urge you to ask DCPS how it will manage the return of student devices/hotspots (and use that information to inform numbers for new device purchases), as well as the timeline and milestones for ensuring that student & teacher devices, tech support, and school/home internet infrastructure will be ready on day 1 of next school year. 

Text Box: A subset of questions we asked over a month ago and did not get responses: 
Teacher Devices: Did you finish testing sample devices with teachers? Have you chosen a model and can you share how many teachers will receive devices?

School WiFi: Please share the list of schools that will receive internet infrastructure upgrades this year. Could you also note which five schools will be upgraded to 5 gigs and confirm the project completion date? Could you also provide the list of schools that were upgraded last year?
DCPS-OCTO MOU: Has the MOU been finalized? What is the anticipated level of tech support, including the number of OCTO techs assigned to schools to provide direct service? Will OCTO techs be trained and assist with asset management in SY21-22?
Technology as part of school modernizations: Please clarify - Because DGS purchases tech equipment for modernizations it is not E-rate eligible?  Does DCPS pay DGS for the tech that they purchase (as a part of a modernization project) through an interagency transfer? 
On data on the digital divide, for the first time this year DCPS’s enrollment form package includes questions on access to the internet and devices, and we encourage you to ask for that data broken out by school and ward. Ideally, we would have high-quality consistent data across both sectors on access to technology, as opposed to ad hoc, inconsistent surveying that happened this past school year.

Digital Literacy

Lastly, we need your engagement to make sure the discussion on digital equity doesn’t focus simply on devices and internet, but also skills for using technology.

Digital literacy is not a buzzword to us. It means that students are taught to use the Microsoft Office suite to complete assignments. It means teaching children typing skills so they can complete online testing without the added barrier of limited typing proficiency. It means when students get assigned by their high school teacher or college professor to do a research project and make a Powerpoint on the findings, they can focus on the actual content, not struggle with using software and conducting online research.

DCPS has no overall plan or standardized approach to ensure every student (or teacher) has these kind of digital literacy skills, which means students are taught these skills on an ad hoc, inconsistent manner. Additionally, it is unclear whose responsibility it is to teach students digital literacy. Librarians, many of whom gone through master’s programs with a heavy emphasis on digital tools, can help with digital literacy training. But librarian positions have been categorized as flexible positions in the DCPS budget process and are getting cut.  

Conclusion

While achieving digital equity is not rocket science, we need continued Council engagement to ensure that technology challenges, including the lack of long-term planning and a clear path to digital literacy for all students, is addressed in a timely manner by the executive branch. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Sandra Moscoso Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

and the

Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

Chairmen and Councilmembers. I am Sandra Moscoso, treasurer of the Ward 2 Education Council, a parent of two students at School Without Walls High School, and a resident of Ward 6. 

Thank you for asking important questions families have been asking about the city’s plans on health, education, and recovery.

I am heartened by the Chancellor’s and the Mayor’s optimism that schools will open SY22 with full-time in-person instruction, but like many families who feel burned by the past year of starts and stops, I struggle to trust. On learning recovery, I would like to understand the evidence DCPS has used to determine tutoring makes more sense than hiring more teachers and smaller classrooms. I want to reinforce Dr. Betsy Wolf’s testimony and the questions she asks. 

I worry that like Summer 2020, putting all their eggs in the basket of in-person will again mean DCPS will not ensure families have technology and internet. I want to reinforce the Digital Equity testimonies and related, I want to remind everyone that many of our schools relied on librarians to get technology ready, train teachers, and generally support virtual learning. 

Finally, I am really worried about physical space, and whether schools will be ready to reopen at full capacity (or in the case of my daughter’s school, at full over-capacity). School Without Walls, has a building capacity of 520, yet enrollment is steady at 600. As a result, most teachers share classrooms (which added to the complexity of in-person scheduling this year). We’re packed to the gills on a good day. 

We have no outdoor space, and while school administrators have pursued expanding out into our terrace, (we have already heard that engineering experts have said this is not feasible), without DCPS support (and outside expertise) to look at alternate space, we will face another chaotic reopening, without a plan in place to manage unknown Covid measures.

I recently asked a DCPS representative about the use of federal funds to temporarily rent nearby commercial space. The answer was that this would have to come from capital funds, which is frustrating, as we all know federal funds can be used towards facilities. 

Individual school space assets will vary. Some schools might rely on outdoor space, others might look to nearby commercial space. In every case, schools need central support from experts who can provide recommendations based on school needs. I really, really worry DCPS will leave schools without support or funding on facilities. I feel for central office and the weight they bear under all of the moving pieces, but they have been given federal resources to support schools. It is disconcerting that this year is winding down, and like this time last year, there is no evidence the public can point to that DCPS is staffing up or procuring expertise to support facility readiness. 

It has been such a tough year of knock down drag out fights – many of which could have been avoided. I’m hoping for your help in ensuring we don’t face another year of chaos. Without planning or support, we will either find ourselves unable to accommodate all students + distancing, or we will find ourselves in unsafe situations. Both scenarios are bad and 100% avoidable.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

Betsy Wolf Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

and the

Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

Good morning, Councilmembers, and thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Betsy Wolf, and I’m testifying as both a DCPS parent, and as an education researcher.

First, I want to talk briefly about what we know about the impact of Covid-19 on students’ learning outcomes. Across the country, we have generally seen decreases in learning according to multiple progress monitoring assessments, but this impact has not been experienced equally. Students appear to be more impacted in math than in reading, which may be because reading is more connected to students’ opportunities at home. We have also observed a disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on students’ learning. In DC, EmpowerK12 found large reductions in test scores for students classified as “at-risk” relative to pre-Covid norms. On the other hand, researchers have found less severe or even minimal effects of Covid-19 on test scores for affluent students. Some researchers have even estimated that some students have gained during Covid-19 relative to prior historical trends, possibly due to increased parental support or a homeschooling effect. However, we likely have no idea what the real impact is due to the most vulnerable students missing from the data.

Because the impacts of Covid-19 have been disproportionate, the solutions must also be targeted to the student populations who need them the most. Which brings me to high-dose tutoring, the intervention that everyone is talking about. Tutoring is one of the most promising educational interventions because it has consistently shown large and positive effects on student achievement, particularly for elementary school students and students struggling academically. Interventions that have the greatest impact are typically those offered directly to students, such as tutoring.

We know that tutoring has been proven to be effective in improving student achievement in the past IF:

  • Tutoring is offered one-on-one or in very small groups of students
  • Tutoring is provided by a paid adult, such as a licensed teacher or paraprofessional
  • Tutoring occurs frequently and is sustained over time with the same tutor
  • Tutoring is offered in addition to (and not in place of) core instructional time
  • Tutoring has a formal structure, where adults are trained and supported
  • Tutoring is informed by progress monitoring data on student performance
  • Tutoring is offered during the school day, when students are most likely to be present at school

But let me offer a slightly different perspective. High-dose tutoring isn’t new for some DC schools. Many schools have been serving students who are behind grade level for years, and many have been doing this quite effectively. I would argue that you might be surprised about the extent to which DC educators may be already aware of “high-dose tutoring” although schools may call it something else. The problem is that schools need more resources to do this effectively. Schools need additional staff to provide tutoring for multiple small groups of students during the school day. Covid-19 exacerbates the need because there will likely be even more students who need additional academic supports next year, and these students are likely to be concentrated at specific schools in DC.

Which brings me to what DC plans to do to address the disproportionate impact of Covid-19. What is the plan? What is DC going to do differently next year for schools serving students most impacted by Covid-19? Is DC going to provide additional funds or redirect resources to schools to provide tutoring or other supports? Because last I checked, DC’s traditional public schools (DCPS) were provided with pre-pandemic levels of staffing and told that there would no additional resources. Let me be clear: Are we really going to do nothing extra or different for kids next year? Are we really going to say, let’s pretend like this is any other school year, good luck? Because that is what has happened to date, and that is unacceptable.

The good news is that LEAs will receive additional federal monies, but how LEAs spend this money is so critically important. We need to get supplemental resources to schools, and the resources need to be allocated to schools equitably, not equally. We can’t have more of the same, top-down and autocratic budgeting approaches. We also can’t have new flashy initiatives that don’t have educator buy-in. No matter how good an initiative sounds, if educators don’t buy-in and do the work of carrying out the intervention, it will not work. We also need to honor the expertise that educators bring to the table. They have been doing this work, oftentimes thankless work, day in and day out for years. We also do not yet fully understand the implications of Covid-19. Schools might face different challenges than in years past, which may require different resources. Any decisions about how to allocate funds should directly involve school principals about what they think they need in their buildings to be successful to address their students’ needs, and these conversations need to be timely and ongoing.

Thank you for your time.

Suzanne Wells Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After the COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

and the

Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

         Thank you for holding today’s hearing on the important topic of our city’s public education system after the COVID-19 pandemic.    My name is Suzanne Wells, and I’m the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization.

         The COVID-19 pandemic did not strike equitably.   This inequity tells us we must focus our education recovery efforts on the students who lost the most whether it was learning, emotional, or other losses. 

Our city funds along with the American Rescue Plan Act relief dollars provide us unprecedented opportunities to close achievement gaps.  We must use these funds responsibly and wisely.   In my written testimony, I’ve included a link to five questions to ask school districts about how they will use the new federal funds to support students developed by the Education Trust.  These questions seek to understand:

  • what meaningful efforts are used to gather data on student needs;
  • what data will be used to identify individual student needs and how will their progress be monitored;
  • how we will ensure funds are targeted to students with the most needs;
  • how safe and equitable learning environments for the most vulnerable students will be created; and
  • how will evidence-based strategies to address unfinished instruction, accelerate learning, and respond to student’s academic, social and emotional needs be used.

I encourage our city’s education leaders to be guided by these five questions as plans to use the relief funds are put in place.

At the heart of all the efforts, it will take trained, qualified staff to provide the supports and instruction students need.  The initial budget allocations resulted in too many schools losing critical staff.  The Mayor, Council and DCPS must ensure no school loses staff this coming year, and that many schools increase their staff so they will be able to provide the tutoring and other support students will need.  We continue to hear reports that schools particularly in Wards 7 and 8 are not able to retain their school librarians; that is not how we achieve equity in education.  It is imperative we adequately staff our schools with a well-prepared and diverse workforce.

If this past year taught us anything, it is that technology plays a critical role in education. This means ensuring all schools have devices for students and teachers, and teachers and families receive appropriate training on the technology.  We encourage the Council to pass the DCPS Technology Equity Act of 2021, which would require that DCPS develop a multi-year technology plan.  We also encourage the Council to pass the Internet Equity Amendment Act of 2021, which would require development of a Master Internet Plan to ensure all residents are connected.

Our federal relief dollars should not be used to do more of the same, and our goal should not be to get back to where we were pre-COVID.  We must use this opportunity to bring about significant changes and improvements in our education efforts so we can best support all students and their families.

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