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Katie Norton Testimony for SBOE on Reopening

Hello and thank you for providing us with the opportunity to share our concerns about schools reopening in just a couple of short weeks. My name is Katie Norton and I am a Ward 2 DCPS Pre-K 3/4 teacher & resident-- soon to be a Ward 1 resident again-- hi Emily--and new mother of a 2 1/2 month old baby.

I am at a loss for words. As a previous DCPS teacher who testified noted, I am coming before you again in just a year’s time, to tell you how worried I am for my safety and wellness, for my students, their families, and my own young child. This past summer I joined teacher colleagues in engaging in direct action to ensure that Mayor Bowser, Chancellor Ferebee, the City Council, and members of this body were clear where we as teachers stand-- I believe that everyone has a right to work and learn in an environment that is safe and healthy.

As we are all aware, school districts around the country have reopened for in person learning and an alarming number of cases of Covid 19 have been reported. Hospitals are treating very sick children at rates we have never seen. Meanwhile, here at home we are seeing cases climbing every day. I was taken aback by the mayor’s comment this morning, stating that there’s no number of Covid cases that will cause schools to close. How?

Children in my classroom will be unmasked every day at lunchtime and naptime, which accounts for over 2 hours. For those of you who have spent time with small children, you’ll know that 3 & 4 year olds-- especially those with developmental delays like those I teach-- need a lot of close care. And aren’t so great at keeping their hands to themselves. Let alone wearing a mask correctly. I will absolutely need to comfort them during naptime. Many of my students require close proximity by law-- it’s written in their IEPs. When I ask about safety measures, I’m assured that ECE classes are self-contained this year-- as if that means I won’t be exposed to the children in my own classroom. Great. As others have said, social distancing, “to the extent possible” is a cop out. Urging parents to sign a testing agreement form that includes agreeing to releasing DCPS from any liability should their child get sick from Covid is how you discourage testing.

I would urge the SBOE to recommend to the mayor, DME for Education, and Chancellor Ferebee to reconsider their position on virtual learning and testing. We have to know who is sick and we have to provide safe options for families and their children.

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