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DC SBOE Testimony on Reopening from Steve Donkin

Testimony Before the D.C. State Board of Education, August 18, 2021

Steve Donkin

Science Teacher, Cardozo Education Campus

D.C. Caucus Of Rank-and-File Educators (DC-CORE)

In today’s press conference (August 18), Mayor Bowser finally said out loud what we already knew - that fully reopening schools now is not safe, and that she doesn’t care. I quote: “We anticipate that there will be more cases.” However, we were reassured, we shouldn’t worry because the mitigation procedures in place are working splendidly, as we see in many charter schools where infections and exposure are being identified and proper quarantine routines are being followed. Never mind that cases of serious illness, hospitalization and long-term health consequences in infected children are on the rise. At least the kids are back in school buildings and we can say with no hint of sarcasm that they are getting the high quality education we have always provided. If we lose a few along the way, well that’s a price we’re willing to pay to be able to say we’ve done our jobs.

The DCPS reopening plan, such as it is, was clearly designed by people who no longer seem to appreciate the seriousness of this pandemic, if they ever did, and who additionally have no clue about what happens on a daily basis inside our schools. We’re told with confidence that social distancing and full masking will be in place throughout the day, every day, with no exceptions. But those of us who actually work with children, with all their quicky and delightful yet sometimes exasperating playfulness, defiance and moodiness, know how unrealistic this scenario is. We’re told that parents are being asked to check their children’s health status every morning and to keep them home if they exhibit symptoms of illness, but we educators know that many students rise and leave for school without ever seeing their parents, who may be working, sleeping or otherwise not able to monitor their children before they go to school. We’re told that one brilliant strategy is for schools to use outdoor facilities when feasible, with no consideration of the fact that for much of the school year that is decidedly not possible. We’re told that students participating in sports should remain masked at all times, except when they are playing together on the field, shouting, coughing and spitting while in close contact with each other. And parents are being asked to sign a student testing consent form that relieves DCPS of liability should their child contract COVID from on-campus attendance. In other words, should DCPS’s foolishly contrived plan - to go to full in-person instruction while the viral spread rages - results in student infections (and right now new infections in D.C. are well above what they were last summer and much of the spring), there will be no accountability.

So if the current reopening plan is flawed and dangerous (and I understand that some parents are growing weary of teachers sounding the same warning against full reopening for the past year and a half), what are the solutions? We could be more creative with scheduling, perhaps allowing for staggered schedules and expanded student support centers. We could maintain virtual options, but this time with better technology support for all students and stepped-up community outreach to target disengaged students. We could set up local community learning centers across the city to avoid large numbers of students crowding into limited spaces together.

While I don’t have all the solutions, I know that we have been told again and again that this pandemic has emphasized the need to rethink education. I know that there will be no going back to normal any time soon. And I know that the people in charge have had well over a year to come up with creative solutions, and all they have given us is the same old paradigm – everyone back to school just like we used to do. But then that sort of sterile, unimaginative thinking is just what you’d expect when you let politicians and bureaucrats run the school system, and leave the educators out of the decision-making.

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