Three weeks into the school year, D.C. parents are joining with many public school educators to express their concerns about how the realities seen in school buildings regarding COVID-19 safety protocols do not match the positive tone presented in public statements by Chancellor Ferebee and Mayor Bowser.
At a Zoom town hall meeting on the evening of September 9 that was attended by nearly 70 parents and educators from numerous schools across the district, the common theme was that social distancing is not happening in overcrowded classrooms and cafeterias, and neither is universal and proper mask wearing.
Parent Huleana Colson stated that during a walkthrough during school hours, “I observed a high volume of extreme over-crowdedness at all lunch tables in the cafeteria area, not to mention the large amount of crowdedness at dismissal time. This is extremely dangerous for our scholars’ safety and health.” She specifically called out Mayor Bowser and Chancellor Ferebee, saying their desire “to rush scholars back to school in such an unsafe and uncomfortable manner clearly jeopardizes young scholars’ futures. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”
Another DCPS parent, Danica Petroshius, said, “While the Mayor stood outside our school for her press conference touting safety and outdoor learning, kids were indoors and COVID was spreading. The rhetoric doesn’t match reality. We need to work together to ensure safety through outdoor lunch, safe nap spaces, safe buildings and air quality, pervasive in-school testing, safe testing spaces, better quarantine and absence policies and greater transparency - all supported through a quality virtual option.”
According to Steve Donkin, a science teacher at Cardozo Education Campus, “Those of us who actually work inside schools every day knew before school started that social distancing and universal mask wearing in schools full of children is impossible.” He added that, while school administrators are doing the best they can with the resources provided by DCPS, many promises made by the District, such as thorough cleaning protocols, sufficient PPEs and proper signage as specified in a Memorandum of Agreement finalized in August, remain unfulfilled. “Our school has had two positive cases in as many weeks, and this is happening in numerous schools citywide. It’s not sustainable.”
Nevertheless, a clear plan for switching back to online learning should rising cases necessitate such a move has not been forthcoming. Other ideas some have suggested, as positive cases and quarantines within schools increase daily, include staggering schedules to decrease the numbers of students and staff in buildings at one time, opening up smaller learning centers across the city, hiring more staff to reduce class sizes, and honestly engaging parents and educators in formulating mitigation strategies.
Parents and educators at the September 9 town hall meeting decided to make September 21, when the D.C. Council will hold a hearing on school reopening, a day of action by signing up to testify at the hearing and ending the day with a rally at 5:00 pm at Watkins Elementary School, 420 12th Street, SE.
Contact: Steve Donkin, firstname.lastname@example.org