Demanding Safer & Better Schools: Upcoming Events & Recaps

While Phil Mendelson, chair of the DC council, dithers and delays about that elected body returning in person after almost 2 years of virtual meetings and hearings, others in DC are demanding safety for in person learning after 20 weeks of the same this school year:

–A group of DCPS high school students, Students for Safe Learning, is organizing for a possible student strike starting at 12:45 pm on Tuesday, January 25. Sign up is here.

Here’s what they say:

“After listening to the complaints and thoughts of students, parents, and teachers, we have decided that taking action is the best way to make our feelings known to DCPS, Mayor Bowser, and Chancellor Ferebee. We should not have to compromise our health to pursue our education. Stand with us to make a difference.”

–DCPS substitutes–who protested earlier this month and were subsequently granted a raise to just above minimum wage (and less than half of what they demanded)–are reportedly planning a rally outside the Wilson Building every Monday (including this Monday, January 24) to ensure better pay and justice.

–In the wake of educators at Anacostia HS last week demanding better building and covid safety, DC students are surveying staff and family perspectives on DCPS’s response to covid. Take their surveys for students and families and for teachers and staff.

Here are some more consequential upcoming events for DC’s schools:

–On January 26, at 6 pm, the advisory committee for the research practice partnership (RPP) for DC education will hold its first meeting. Sign up to view it in real time is here.

Recall that the RPP’s advisory committee was supposed to be public, with public meetings, until DC council chair Phil Mendelson (yup, the elected leader at the top of this blog) tried to make both private. Then, in the wake of pressure otherwise, the committee was publicly announced—with the happy thought that maybe its meetings will be public from here on. (You know, that silly little notion of the public in public education.)

–Once again this year, we will have ONE hearing for oversight and ONE hearing for budgets for all our DC education agencies–which amounts to two hearings for more than $2 billion of your tax dollars:

March 2: Public ed agency performance oversight hearing; sign up here
March 28: Public ed agency budget hearing; sign up here

The DC council chair’s website for registering for all hearings of the committee of the whole (which does public education oversight) is here.

–Other education hearings are on the horizon as well:

February 2: Hearing on special education policies; sign up is here
March 10: Status of a DCPS middle school in Center City; sign up is here
March 11: Hearing on bill 24-428, on redefining attendance; sign up is here

This month also has had a few bright spots:

DCPS teachers were (finally) granted paid covid leave, and legislation on better covid reporting in DCPS (which the council chair blocked at the beginning of January) was passed. In addition to announcing test-to-return after breaks starting in February, DCPS announced weekly testing for all preK students starting January 17.

While all of that is good, it is also terribly slow in the face of what we have experienced this month alone after almost 2 years of this pandemic:

–Unrelenting covid pressure on DCPS custodians;
–No covid coordinators, despite a deep need and a promise;
–High absence rates in DCPS;
–Continuing lack of asymptomatic testing in DCPS, with testing entirely cancelled in some schools and its 20% weekly goal repeatedly missed;
–A staffer for the council chair (yup, the elected person at the top of this blog post) saying that teachers lie and covid’s no big deal;
–Continuing poor reporting of covid in DCPS;
–Zero KN95 masks to DCPS kids and 1 (!) to DCPS teachers, while neighboring Montgomery County has 4 million (!) KN95 masks, with DCPS protesting that it actually had delivered 129,000 masks and claims that there is a supply chain issue that prevents DCPS from giving them to kids;
–The reality that at least 28% of DCPS teachers have tested positive for covid this school year;
–DC not accounting for self-taken rapid tests until January 7, doing no testing for students on OSSE buses, and quickly taking down the DCPS post-break testing portal;
–The messed-up reality of test-to-return in DCPS from January 4 and 5 (when the portal went down for both staff as well as parents, with the latter breakdown pushing DCPS to say that parents could simply write a note about their children’s tests–and when the covid testing opt-out form (which allowed for 10 excused days of quarantine) was provided only after the deadline for submitting test to return results);
–The additional messed-up reality that but for the insistence to return in person, the first week of January in DCPS could have been virtual (recall that there was also a snow day in addition to the delayed return to accommodate test to return);
–And the same week that 1 in 7 DC residents had covid, the mayor gaslighted that DCPS testing after winter break was a mandate to return to in person instruction.

So, stay warm, stay real—and support safety in our schools.

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