November 1: Accountability Day For Safer DC Schools

Next Thursday November 1, the DC city council will hold several education-related hearings whose common theme is improving student safety in and around our schools.

Sexual Assault and Abuse

At 10 am on November 1, the council’s education committee is holding a hearing on two bills, introduced in September, that would require schools to adopt policies to address information about; reporting of; and response to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.

(And yes, it is incredible that this is all new.)

As noted on the council website, the Student Safety and Consent Education Act (B22-0967) requires that “schools adopt and implement a policy to prevent and address peer-to-peer sexual harassment, sexual assault, and dating violence among students. The policy should include a statement prohibiting sexual harassment, sexual assault, or dating violence among students and a protocol of how to respond to allegations. It also requires staff development training.”

Text of the bill is here; more information, including how to submit testimony, is here.

(Just fyi, the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a petition supporting the legislation, available here.)

At the same hearing, the education committee will also hear testimony about another recently introduced bill, the School Safety Act (B22-0951). As noted on the council website, the bill requires that “schools adopt and implement a policy to prevent and address child sexual abuse, including protocols for responding to and reporting allegations. Public schools and public charter schools are also required to vet potential hires by checking the national licensing database.”

Text of the bill is here; more information, including how to submit testimony, is here.

Recent events in DC’s schools just in 2018 alone acutely underscore the acute need for both bills (i.e., at LAMB; Chavez; Roosevelt; Shepherd; Meridian).

(The council also has another piece of legislation to support anonymous reporting in schools, which is not part of this hearing.)

Artificial Turf

Also on November 1, but at 12:30 pm with the council’s transportation and environment committee, environmental outdoor play space standards will be discussed, including the Safe Fields and Playgrounds Act (B22-0946).

The legislation requires the mayor to undertake a study of the safety of synthetic materials used for DC’s rec spaces.

As environmental activists have noted, artificial turf retains heat and can have severe issues with hardness, which have plagued artificial turf fields in DC both this year and last. Indeed, responding to reports of its toxicity, city officials last year banned the use of rubber crumb on DC’s 52 artificial turf fields.

(Materials from last year’s council hearing on the subject are available in the city’s legislative database, including testimony from a local parent as well as a children’s environment organization. DGS, the city agency in charge of DC’s turf fields, also has responses to concerns here.)

For more information on the legislation or to submit testimony, see here. For the legislation itself, see here.

Drinking Water

At that same hearing (November 1, 12:30 pm, council’s transportation and environment committee), Hannah Donart, a parent activist for lead-free water in our schools, will testify about the possibility of amending the Childhood Lead Exposure Prevention Amendment Act of 2017.

As you may recall, this law was created in the wake of a recent public health crisis in DC: our public schools were found to have many fixtures leaching lead into water that children drank.

As there is no safe level of lead for children to consume, what began as a public relations management effort by city leaders (yes, really–see here) turned into more frequent testing of water in schools and the widespread use of water filters to remove all lead.

But as Donart explains in her recent blog post for the Union of Concerned Scientists, the new law has significant gaps that still allow children to be exposed to lead in water in our schools, including not having a low enough allowable lead level and not providing for adequate witnesses for the water testing (particularly important in the wake of allegations that tests have been conducted to minimize high lead levels).

Donart has circulated a petition with corrections for these shortcomings and recently met with staff of the deputy mayor for education (DME) to discuss them. (See here for Donart’s exhaustive recap of that meeting, which she addressed to Alex Cross, in the DME’s office.) While it is unclear what, if anything, the DME’s office will do in response, Donart and other parents are planning to meet again with DME staff next week, before the hearing.

Radiation

Actually, this is about development–specifically, the mayor’s apparent desire to develop public land near Walker-Jones Education Campus. Legislation to do just that will also be the subject of that same 12:30 pm November 1 hearing before the council’s transportation and environment committee.

What makes the development of that block interesting is what is happening immediately catty corner to it–which is that Pepco wants to build a giant substation on top of the Walker-Jones Education Campus. That substation would mean that the school loses its teaching garden while being bombarded with electromagnetic radiation in relatively large amounts.

While the safety of the latter may be debated by some, there is nothing remotely debatable about anything else in that project:

The formerly public land that the garden by Walker-Jones occupies was sold to Pepco in 2015 in a deal for land near the new soccer stadium. Pepco has not merely already invested a lot of money in traditional energy infrastructure, of which this substation would be a major part. The substation (whose construction is slated to begin in 2019) is also intended to support all the new building around the school–much of which has gone to residents with higher incomes.

And now, with this new legislation, there is even more development for that area on tap (albeit with low-income units).

While Walker-Jones neighbors have been fighting the substation for some time (take a look at the public service commission docket for this, formal case 1144), the city’s own department of energy and the environment has submitted a study showing that Pepco doesn’t even need to build any substation there.

In fact, back in April, the council put forth legislation that would set up a public body to help plan just such substations in the future–rather than allowing the utility to be the driver (as Pepco is in this case). The legislation also encourages “nonwired” energy alternatives–which would be for solar or other non-fossil fuels, not a typical substation like this.

So: What does putting a large substation on top of a school (and, literally, its garden space) to support burgeoning development mean for that school’s population of poor and minority children (who in 2014 were also subjected to high levels of lead in their school’s water)?

Or is that really a question?

Mayoral control, indeed.

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