Powerful Ideas For Our Public Schools Moving Forward

Amid our collective struggle at being adrift without a clear light at the end of this pandemic, thoughtful and excellent recommendations have emerged right here in DC for ways forward for our public schools in terms of re-opening and distance learning.

These ideas are all the more important now that our mayor announced on Monday this week the formation of an advisory committee, whose subcommittee on re-opening schools is largely comprised of education reform interests. See here for what questions they are mulling before they generate a draft report on May 4, with a final report with recommendations on May 11 (yeah, 10 days from now).

The voices below give a necessarily broader perspective, which is thankful because if we have learned anything during this crisis, it is that we need as many voices as possible.

(To add your own voice, take the mayor’s survey on re-opening DC, which is here.)

•Parents’ Letter On Critical Issues To Address Before And During Re-Opening

(Sign before 5 pm TODAY, May 1!!!)

This letter to the mayor, generated by DC public school parents, outlines critical guiding principles as well as questions for any discussion around re-opening. The guiding principles emphasize ensuring the health and safety of all people in all schools with the coordination of child care and other experts.

The letter also demands answers to important and central questions before schools are re-opened, including how will a plan be designed to preserve and advance equity; how will the city communicate with and solicit views of families, LSATs, PTAs, and other groups in our schools; how will learning in this pandemic include mental health, social emotional, physical, and academic supports for students most in need; and how will meals, safe passage, and online and in person learning work, whether in re-opened schools or in distance learning.

Sign before 5 pm today Friday May 1 here.

(Update May 4: The letter was sent on Monday May 4 with more than 200 signatories and is linked at the top of this entry as well as here.)

•EmpowerEd’s Education Recovery Plan

This excellent document created by DC educators outlines ways in which DC’s schools can go forward both in terms of budgets as well as taking care of the people in our schools. Recommendations include immediate steps to take (such as closing the digital divide and summer meal distribution) and guiding principles for re-opening.

The document also outlines a distinct plan for re-opening (in the event it is deemed advisable by health experts), with early school year intensive programming to address learning loss and socio-emotional needs as well as physical alternatives, future distance learning, extended days, and addressing needed funding.

See the whole plan here–as well as calls to advocate with city leaders for it.

•Digital Equity in DC Education’s Recommendations

Digital Equity in DC Education, a parent group, has formulated an excellent presentation for the mayor’s re-opening committee. See the group’s recommendations here.

Among the recommendations are increased funds to repair and replace computers within DCPS, alongside IT support; teacher development and access to tech; and a curriculum for computer literacy, to allow students better access during distance learning.

Given wide disparities in access to the internet, the document also calls for increasing internet access citywide, including prioritizing student wifi in public housing and conducting an assessment for broadening municipal internet, according to the timeline below.

analysis illustration graphic hhh

•SHAPPE Recommendations To Re-Opening Committee

In an April 29 letter to the re-opening committee, Cathy Reilly, head of SHAPPE (Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators) who was also appointed to the mayor’s education re-opening committee, outlined what SHAPPE recommends for re-opening, including addressing abiding transit issues; having uniformity and consistency in guidance across and within LEAs; and ensuring adequate staffing, including full-time nurses, an expanded pool of substitutes, and more custodians as well as partners from other city agencies.

•C4DC Letter On Securing DCPS Fiscally In A Budget Crisis

On April 14, C4DC (a coalition of ward education councils and advocates supporting DCPS) sent this letter to Mayor Bowser, urging recognition of structural funding deficiencies in DCPS, especially in the face of what promise to be drastic fiscal pressures on the city budget.

That remedying of structural deficiencies includes basing DCPS’s budget on an enrollment of at least 54,833, which would align it more closely with actual reality. It also includes paying for DCPS utilities outside of the uniform per student funding formula (UPSFF). The current system of including those utilities within the UPSFF disadvantages DCPS relative to charters.

•Other Recommendations:

Erich Martel, retired DCPS teacher:

–Be careful of any “accountability” schemes. IMPACT should be suspended.
–There has to be a plan for addressing non-compliant student behavior.
–Equity is a guarantee of equal opportunity with compensatory support based on disparate need. It’s not a guarantee of outcome. Confusion of opportunity with outcome has been the disinformation strategy used by education reformers to undermine public education.
–Ideally state governors and state superintendents and boards of education would seek suspension or relaxation of ESSA district and school evaluations. If that happened, it would be something for the mayor, the office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) and the DC state board of education to join.

Special Ed. Advisory Coalition, a group of DC professionals in special education, via member Karla Witt:

–Ensure that any further communications from OSSE about summer/ESY/next school year be provided in English and Spanish.
–Continue to raise up getting some sort of special ed coordinator contact list for parents to access and ask questions.
–Think through distance learning or accommodations for children who are healthy but have a relative or caregiver who is medically fragile.
–Support parents/caregivers with disabilities so kids can get to school.
–Staff up over summer to make sure that evaluations are done.
–Ensure availability of childcare, which is already a special concern for students with disabilities.
–Ensure availability of personal care/direct support staff.
–Pass and enact home and hospital instruction legislation.
–Make schools ready to support students with asthma and the medically fragile.
–Ensure adequate nursing staff and PE.
–Address transportation needs including WMATA.

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