Last week, DCPS held 3 days of in person instruction before winter break began on December 23. In that time, covid cases increased alarmingly both in DC as well as across schools–and the mayor reinstated a mask mandate.
Yet, instead of responding to the data; or to a petition signed by thousands to have virtual instruction for those 3 days; or to the fact that more than 10% of DCPS students were in quarantine, with more than a dozen schools going virtual because of case explosions, DCPS just stopped reporting data–even as students, teachers, and schools repeatedly raised alarms about increasing cases and lack of notifications.
Then, after the end of instruction on December 22, DCPS dumped information about almost 900 cases onto its notification website.
Not empowered to notify their own school communities of what they knew, principals issued oblique warnings and cancelled events as best as they could while awaiting DCPS “approved” communications on the case explosions. (See here and here for a couple of examples.)
But DCPS’s dangerous covid denial didn’t stop there:
At the end of the last day of instruction for 2021, Chancellor Ferebee issued this message, which indicated that not only would school covid notifications hereafter simply be tallied, without dates (and apparently also without any individual notifications as before), but that this change was being done because of an apparent failure in contact tracing.
After 10 pm the next day, December 23, I received via email a DCPS-issued statement that because of increased cases reported at my school, my child “may have come in close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual.”
Here’s the thing, though: There is no record of any of these increased cases on the DCPS notification website as of this blog post, 3 days later.
In fact, the only DCPS covid notification for the entire month of December I received for my school was from December 9, for a positive individual last present on December 1. (Right now, as of this blog post, that notice is still the only public notification for December for that school listed on the DCPS covid notification website.)
Worse, if one assumes that the presumption of close contact for my child (and every family who received this notice) is absolutely true, that means that there was a full 24 hours at least when my kid (and who knows how many others) was parading around after having been a close contact.
Sadly, that is the very best scenario, because the notice doesn’t mention when the close contact may have occurred.
If that close contact occurred the week before, when we started getting alarming messages from the school about cases that were awaiting DCPS “approved” communications (which to the moment I am posting this remain UNreported by DCPS), that means almost an entire week passed during which an entire school of kids were close contacts–and none of them was told.
Incredibly, that December 23 letter went on to state that vaccinated students need to take a covid test 3-5 days later or quarantine if unvaccinated—while encouraging parents to use two days of what had been instructional days (Jan. 3 and 4) to pick up rapid tests and use them before returning to school on January 5.
There was no acknowledgement that by the time many families got that email, it would be Christmas Eve, when many would be around families and friends, who then would be unwittingly exposed and be responsible themselves for seeking out hard-to-find rapid tests because no one at DCPS central had the decency and responsibility to let families and staff know what actually occurred in their own schools.
It is difficult to comprehend how any ethical civic leader can institute policies that guarantee direct public endangerment while preventing information flow that would enable the public to protect themselves.
The stopping of reporting in conjunction with that December 23 letter represent no less than a new order of uncaring and denial of reality in the pantheon of DCPS’s enduring covid policy failures.
For instance, DCPS does not have a covid test-to-return policy after winter break, while even long-mandated vaccinations are poorly adhered to. DCPS has also not instituted asymptomatic testing at levels it promised before the school year (10-20%) or that the council mandated by law starting in November (20%). Not to mention that DCPS also suspended all asymptomatic testing the week before Christmas—as cases rose precipitously. And in schools seeing increased cases, DCPS apparently made principals request to go virtual—and then determined whether a virtual stance would be allowed.
It is as if someone somewhere believes that DCPS central approval and control of all school decisions (whether going virtual or providing timely, accurate case notifications) can control a disease that has killed close to a million Americans and is raging uncontrolled globally.
Or maybe they just believe that denying basic information to the public about a terrible public health disaster will provide political cover for the mayor, who is seeking re-election and doesn’t want to have more school closures on her watch.
To be sure, covid is hardly the only problem in our schools of late:
–somehow, DCPS hired a very troubled individual as a librarian, despite clear warning signs;
–kids have been hit by cars—repeatedly—near schools, leading to two recent bills (see here and here) to ensure better protection;
–the hearing on teacher retention featured DCPS’s deputy chancellor Melissa Kim reciting what appear to be lies about testing in our schools; and
–the loss of Black teachers in DC is staggering.
Yet, here we are, in a covid nightmare that didn’t have to be as nightmarish as it is, with no accurate reporting, no test to return, and no way to go virtual for everyone in January.
But don’t despair!
Take action by signing this petition to demand that DCPS enact sensible and actionable public health measures in its schools. Pushing back against denials of covid reality is the only way to make our schools safer–and save lives.
Update 1/2/22: See here for an update (and more outrage).