Paige Veliz-Gilbert DCSBOE Testimony on Reopening
Paige Veliz-Gilbert, DC Resident & DCPS Teacher
DC SBOE Testimony
Good evening, I’m Paige Veliz-Gilbert, a DC resident and proud DCPS teacher, entering my 10th year with the District. I would like to thank the State Board of Education for taking public comments on the upcoming school year.
As a teacher, I look forward to the first days of school and do everything within my power to be prepared and to enthusiastically welcome students. Like every teacher, I cannot wait to meet my students.
Unfortunately, the current reopen plan is riddled with problems. These problems were foreseeable, and with hundreds of schools already experiencing quarantines and closures, it is negligent for the Mayor and Chancellor to forge full steam ahead with a flawed plan.
My specific concerns relate to testing, reporting/tracing, and the lack of a universal virtual option. Here are my heartfelt recommendations:
1. Every person entering a DCPS should have access to weekly Covid testing, regardless of vaccination status.
While the CDC does not recommend testing asymptomatic vaccinated individuals, DC DOH recently reported that 16% of new cases were individuals that had been vaccinated. We have the ability to catch and prevent outbreaks caused by breakthroughs, and we must take it. There are too many students not yet eligible for the vaccine. This extra layer of protection is clearly the right call at this time.
Expanded testing among adults is especially important in light of
the problems associated with the current OPT-IN consent form put out by OSSE
& the DC Auditor’s report that in Spring ‘21 DCPS tested just 4% of IPL students - not the 10% promised.
2. Reporting and contact tracing must be reported at the school level.
The current method for reporting cases and quarantines is nearly useless. We need numerators and denominators. The public should know how many tests were conducted and how many were positive. There are many lingering questions about reporting and contact tracing:
Who is conducting the testing? OSSE, School nurse. DC DOH?
Who is responsible for notifications to families?
Who is responsible for reporting cases to the school community?
What is the timeline for such notifications?
3. A Virtual option for any DCPS family who requests one, regardless of medical need.
A virtual option is available to some LEAs but not for DCPS families unless there is a medically “required” reason for the accommodation. The Chancellor & Mayor are strong-arming DCPS families back into buildings, many of whom have children 12 and under, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Some DCPS buildings have been renovated and upgraded. Many have not. The lack of transparency around HVAC systems, the prospect of crowded cafeterias, and the ridiculously narrow definition of “close contact,” should be enough to justify virtual learning. It is immoral to deny this option to parents, especially with daily pediatric cases rising. It is extremely disappointing that virtual learning is not an option. It is also clear that there is demand for it.
Furthermore, some families saw their children thrive in Distance Learning. We had an opportunity to innovate, reimagine and broaden learning options for families.
The DCPS plan represents a failure in almost every aspect of safety, equity, accountability, and leadership. They have the brochure and with mere hours before teachers return, the details that have come out this week only raise more questions and concerns.
The Mayor, OSSE, and the DC Department of Health are equally complicit in its shortsightedness and glaring problems, particularly in light of the Delta variant. I hope the State Board of Education continues to press for details that ensure families are supported in the decisions that best meet their needs.
Thank you for your time.
In light of the Mayor’s statement earlier today, it is unconscionable that she would say there are no metrics that would result in closing schools. Nearly all the jurisdictions that now offer virtual learning did not want to and/or did not plan to offer such programming this fall. It was a necessity. Let’s hope the Mayor’s shortsighted and arrogant comment does not cost anyone their life.