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DC-CORE Chair Testimony for the DC Council on School Reopening

Given: Tuesday, September 21, 2021

While I am glad we are here asking questions of DCPS and DCPCS around reopening, I am openly skeptical that it will make a difference in our classrooms, though I hope I will be proven wrong.

When it comes to health and safety, things are not going well in our schools. The reality is that every day our students and educators are being exposed to COVID and it is a matter of when, not if, most of us will test positive. I am grateful that I am vaccinated and therefore not as likely to be severely affected when this happens. But most of my students still are not vaccinated and the rates of vaccination in the communities they go home to are also far too low.

Testing and reporting procedures are not working well enough. We aren’t testing enough. We are being far too limited in what counts as a close contact or an official quarantine, and we are not clearly communicating with parents for what to do if they suspect their child may be infected.

From facilities to quarantine procedures DCPS is once again neglecting the details and how the smaller parts affect the whole. Just look at the leave policies: According to DCPS, if teachers have not been told by DCPS to quarantine, or we don’t already have a positive test, teachers can’t teach virtually and must use their own leave. If they use COVID leave it will be unpaid. This means educators will possibly have to choose either to put the rest of us at risk and enter the building despite their concerns, or if they stay home and await their test results the students won’t get to learn from them if they stay home and use a substitute.

Teachers are human beings. And many have families and don’t live in DC. DC seems not to care if a teacher’s child has to quarantine and then they can’t come in. They have to use their own leave or go unpaid and they can’t teach virtually. Why should teachers be forced to wipe out all their leave for a pandemic when we have options to teach virtually?

Teachers are being asked to do far more than ever before on top of navigating a pandemic and many are reaching a breaking point. From increased class coverage and losing our planning periods, to navigating students going out on quarantine and trying to get those students work, to more morning meetings than ever to roll out more data tracking (MTSS, RCT, Mastery Connect and more). Seriously, was this really the time to roll out more standardized tests, new systems and paperwork?

Despite having over a DECADE of this nonsense that we call mayoral control the council, all of you, still act helpless and clueless when it comes to our schools. Heads up y’all. You were effectively elected to be both a council AND a school board. Your woe is me I’m just a council member song and dance does not cut it. DCPS does what you let it get away with. And in this case it is students lives that are most at risk.

Further testimony:

Back to school is not “back to normal.” We have to prepare our schools for a new normal, one that prioritizes the health and safety of all alongside our students’ education and we have not done that. At the very least, the measures in place before reopening schools for full in-person instruction should include:

● provision of high quality masks to all in the building (N-95 or equivalent)

● weekly COVID testing for all staff and students regardless of vaccination status

● protections and full accommodations for any staff with autoimmune and other preexisting health conditions that place them at great risk from complications due to COVID

● Updated and verified HVAC records done by an outside group

● Measures to increase social distancing

● More consistent and coherent procedure for isolating a symptomatic student or staff

● provisions for parents and caregivers related to COVID protocols in other districts

● Paid COVID-related leave or ability to teach virtually for those who must isolate for any reason

● clarity on reporting at the school level (%'s not just raw #'s and the timeline of communicating cases)

● a publicly available, detailed plan to move to all-virtual instruction should health metrics increase to a 7-day average of new cases above 200, which is the level last seen in the holiday surge of December and January (which admittedly is now)

● expanding the virtual option for parents/guardians who want it

If the past year has taught us anything, it is that we cannot rely on the Chancellor and the Mayor to make reliable decisions about what is best for students and teachers during this dangerous pandemic. Several times in the past, ill-conceived decisions about rushing to reopen schools were countermanded by the determined actions of our members working together. With everyone returning to buildings, the Delta variant surging, and vast numbers of children too young to vaccinate, we need to continue to be unified and proactive as we seek a safe and successful educational experience for all. We need you to make reopening safer.

  1. Culture of Fear. DCPS historically punishes those who speak out and expose wrongdoing in their buildings. The Council must protect workers who speak up and ensure that there is no retaliation either inside the school or from DCPS Central Office if we report problems.

  2. Family Choice. Parents should have the continued right to make the decisions that are best for their family. OSSE’s paperwork is too strict for parents to opt in to virtual instruction and it is outrageous that families should be forced to take risks they do not want to take.

  3. Messaging. It is NOT safe to return to in person instruction. Advertising it as such is a recipe for disaster. We need to instill the importance of following the health protocols at all times due to the danger that the Delta variant poses. This does not mean living in complete fear, but acting like everything is normal is mixed messaging that puts our students at risk.

  4. Community Spread. We are back to a situation where we may need to make difficult choices. When we reopen everything with basically no restrictions, it increases the likelihood of community spread and sends mixed messaging to our students. Trying to force our offices to all open immediately as if it is normal - I’m looking at you Johnny Business – while our students begin reentering public transport to get to school – increases the likelihood of community spread. While it must be a balance, we need to find ways to prioritize our students’ movement to and from school while maintaining social distancing as much as possible and the importance of our students and the community at large wearing masks to continue to protect each other. Masking works. Period. Wear a mask when out in public. Outdoor events with crowds? Wear a mask. Commuting to and from work? Wear a mask. Inside the office? Wear a mask. Inside a private business? Wear a mask. WEAR A MASK IN PUBLIC PLACES.

  5. Vaccines. I hope that DCPS is asked what they are doing to get as many of our vaccine eligible students vaccinated. I am so happy every time I see the hours at HD Woodson for people to get vaccinated – but what is being done beyond the regular forms of communication to make sure everyone knows of the opportunities and is getting to the school to get them? We know that communication to our families has consistently been an issue, so what methods are being done to meet people where they are and get them the information?

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