The Unbearable Lightness of Being [a Public School Family in DC]: Digital Device Edition

[Ed. Note: Right now, an astonishing 60% of respondents to a DCPS survey on technology apparently do not have adequate digital coverage at home to engage in mandatory distance learning when school begins on Monday August 31. To delineate this outrage, which parents across the city warned about for months running, look to the email below addressed to council members today by DCPS parent Danica Petroshius–and consider sending your own outrage on the subject to both the council and mayor.]

By Danica Petroshius

Subject: Following up on technology – urgent
Date: August 28, 2020 at 10:51:56 AM EDT
To: Phil Mendelson PMENDELSON@DCCOUNCIL.US, Charles Allen, LeKisha Jordan ljordan@DCCOUNCIL.US, Christina Setlow csetlow@DCCOUNCIL.US, Laura Marks

Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Allen,

I have been very disappointed and surprised that the Council has not listened to parents about technology issues in schools and has instead relied on DCPS’s word that tech will be provided for all who need it by the time school starts. This means that they needed to have tech in hands of students TODAY and that every child in the family had their own device that is DCPS-compatible and adequate access to internet.

Digital Equity in DC Education and many parents have testified and shared with you and the rest of Council that DCPS is not providing enough technology and not in a timely way: they have been slow to roll out their plans they do have, and they have not well-coordinated with OCTO, missing huge opportunities to provide internet, tech, and support to all families. For example, there will be a CARES Act-funded free Internet program for >20,000 households (SNAP and TANF recipients), but OCTO has not communicated details publicly.

All that we warned about–with the data Digital Equity collected–is coming true now, and we have real gaps in technology for our families while school starts Monday. We have so many students starting without adequate tech, and we already know we are starting with major equity/gap issues that this will exacerbate. In addition, DCPS changed its specs and requirements for computers just weeks before the school started. So for families who had the resources to purchase their own computers–and bought them early because some computers are hard to get due to high demand–some have bought incompatible computers and are stuck without anything that works. This is wrong.

In addition, nonprofits like Serve Your City are having to step up, raise money, and try to fill holes–student by student–that Council and DCPS failed to fill. That is not right. This should have been a Council/DCPS decision to fund technology 1:1. Period. It is astounding that anyone thought that in a virtual learning environment in a pandemic that we would not rush to ensure EVERY child has a computer i.e. 1:1. The fact that we did not do that is leading to messages like that below, which I received from my principal this morning.

And NO, this is not because our schools don’t distribute tech well: our school has been talking to parents this summer and working on distribution plans to make sure everyone has what they need. This delay is because DCPS did NOT provide the tech in enough time for start of school. DCPS has no excuses. They had ALL SUMMER to plan and purchase and prepare. Council had the budget season to fully fund tech 1:1. The city failed children who really need their help.

Here is the message from school this AM–the FRIDAY BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS:

“Good morning, this is Principal A. There has been a delay in the delivery of technology for all students. I will notify you once the devices arrive. WiFi devices are available for families in need of Internet. We are at Meyer today from 10-2. I apologize for any inconvenience.”

This is not our principal’s fault. This is a failure of DCPS to deliver and a failure of Council to adequately listen to and support our families.

I am very upset on behalf of all of our families who do not have tech access from DCPS TODAY. I know my son is prepping his computer to be ready for Monday today. How many students are unable to do that? The Canvas platform is not intuitive. It takes time to work with and practice. Right now, we have caused bigger inequities, and school hasn’t even started.

Once again, parents know the system better than DCPS and Council: we predicted this and it came true. Yet you kept telling us: no, DCPS says they have this ready. Maybe only some schools have distribution issues. We told you this was not the case. And guess what? We were right.

The system would work so much better for all students and closing equity gaps if Council started working WITH parents ahead of time. I have seen OVER AND OVER that parents know our schools inside and out–often better than the schools themselves. Parents also work across schools to understand issues that rise above school level at a system level. We work countless volunteer hours to collect examples and data to share with you. Yet, too often we are ignored, and this leads to significant funding and implementation issues. Instead of ignoring us and always taking DCPS at their word, please work WITH us and look at the data and believe it. Work together on solutions.

I hope you will accelerate oversight and provide emergency funding to ensure every child has a compatible device ASAP. I also hope that you will start to work with families closely: we have major issues ahead as DCPS reworks its budget formulas and systems, continues to support virtual learning, and makes decisions that will affect the health and safety of our families and teachers. Please put our voices front and center and work with us. We can be, are, and will be part of solutions that work.

The solutions never work when we aren’t part of them.

I would appreciate a response asap to understand what Council’s plan is to rectify this for all families asap.

Thank you.

Danica Petroshius
CHML Parent of 5th and 7th graders
CHML SIT, LSAT and PTSO member

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