Some Of What The People Said In 10 Hours On A Wednesday

The mega education performance oversight hearing on March 1 (7 agencies, more than $2 billion annual DC taxpayer $$) lasted slightly over 10 hours and had more than 200 public witnesses, while only a fraction of the council attended—and all for a fraction of the entire hearing’s time. At various points I saw Phil Mendelson, Trayon White, and Robert White, in addition to Zachary Parker, Christine Henderson, and Matt Frumin. The last three occasionally chaired the hearing at various points when Mendelson left.

Despite the difficulty inherent in having one hearing for public witnesses for seven agencies comprising about 1/7 of DC’s entire budget, it may be that our elected leaders prefer it this way. For instance, before the council’s education committee was dissolved by Mendelson in his role as council chair, the council’s committee on education would have three or more performance oversight hearings for those same agencies, wherein one public witness could sign up to testify multiple times about education issues.

Thus, one mega-hearing saves time for the council and, possibly, for public witnesses—at the expense, of course, of public discourse. As it was, the council members present on March 1 asked almost no questions, often citing time concerns. While this may save everyone time in the long run, it comes, again, at the expense of public discourse.

One frequently mentioned theme was treatment of students with disabilities and special education needs by DC agencies and LEAs. Several subthemes emerged, including continually late (or nonexistent) buses for those students provided by our office of the state superintendent of education, otherwise known as OSSE (for two recent stories, see here and here). Several witnesses also mentioned a bill that would provide training for out of school time providers who work with students with disabilities.

A fair amount of concern was expressed for DCPS budget cuts and facilities issues, while students who testified for the Young Women’s Project noted how adults need to do better around how students are treated, mental health provisioning, and sex ed. A contingent of witnesses testified about the need for vocational schools.

Below are links to specific testimonies in a few areas that seemed to get at larger issues covered over that 10-hour period. All submitted testimonies thus far are here; the hearing video is here (but be sure use the published witness list here as a guide through the 10 hours of video).

Finally, because not all testimony is written and contained in that folder linked above (and the number of written testimonies will likely increase over time before the submission deadline), below the links included here is a transcript of the testimony of Whittier assistant principal Joshua Wiley.

This transcript is important because in less than 3 minutes (as shown in the video here), Wiley outlined

–lack of agency and ed leader responsiveness to his school’s physical decrepitude;
–fire code, disability, and safety violations; and
–professional intimidation for even testifying about any of it.

Wiley also noted that no one in DC’s education leadership has even visited the school recently. After Wiley finished, Mendelson said he checked with his staff and has a visit to the school on his schedule–but then said that he was not going to say at the hearing exactly when he would visit “so the rest of the world doesn’t show up at the same time.”

(Nice when elected leaders do not happily embrace the public who elected them.)

Big picture issues:

Tyesha Andrews:

Elizabeth Corinith:

Robert Henderson:

Michael Johnson Jr.:

LaJoy Johnson-Law:

Alice McNeill:

Suzanne Wells:

Issues around special ed and students with disabilities (including discipline):

Maria Blaeuer (discussing DC charter schools):

Stacy Eunnae (discussing DCPS):

Karla Reid-Witt:

Maeve Sullivan:

OSSE bus issues:

Shakira Hemphill:

Stephanie Maltz:

Elizabeth Mitchell:

Renica Robinson:

Need for DC vocational schools:

Rodney Red Grant:

Trupti Patel:

Patience Singleton:

Rosalind Styles:

Carl Thomas:

Transcript of Whittier assistant principal Joshua Wiley testimony (video is available here):

So it’s already been whispered that if I continue my—our–advocacy for Whittier’s modernization, I will never be a principal in DCPS.

But let’s be very clear: this IS an advocacy testimony for Whittier’s modernization.

I have thought long and hard about if I wanted to say anything since it felt like it’s always fallen on deaf ears.

But after much deliberation, I have decided some things cannot go without saying.

Whittier was the only DC public school awarded a green ribbon by the U.S. Department of Education in 2022. It won a $30,000 grant from the CIA and hosted bi-weekly farmer’s markets during the warmer seasons.

On the flip side, Whittier had a radiator explosion, several classrooms without heat, and sewage backing up into classrooms.

Students have co-planned rallies outside of the school in support of a new building, parents came together to form an advocacy group, and teachers have testified in front of the council to detail the condition of the building.

What a fantastic display of community!

But let me ask you this:

How many times has an elected council person visited Whittier in the past 6 months? Zero.

How many times has the chancellor visited the school in the past year? Zero.

To clarify: Taking pictures at the school across the street does not constitute a visit to Whittier.

With the lack of physical visits, it baffles me how anyone can say “NO” or “Whittier can wait until 2027” when discussing modernization.

And I am not asking for immediate modernization because Whittier wants special treatment.

I am demanding modernization because if Whittier were updated in the PACE Act, in the master facilities list, to include the six special education self-contained classes, accounted for the classroom that was eliminated due to elevator construction, and the growing student population, we would have been scheduled for modernization last year.

The only way to access Whittier if you are in a wheelchair is to travel down a rocky alley, through the staff parking lot, up a ramp, and through the side unmanned entrance. Once inside, you cannot access the early childhood wing, the library, or the outdoor classroom–even after the elevator is finished. Not to mention the fire alarm doesn’t have flashing lights, which is a direct violation of building code, especially for people who have difficulties hearing.

And in DGS, simple fixes aren’t cutting it. Four classrooms were without heat, and DGS put in contingency heaters, which only heated part of the classroom, and then DGS or the contractors put duct tape around the window ac unit to keep a cold draft out. Bricks are falling from the side of the building near an entrance. This is a direct harm to student safety, which is a reportable offense to child and family services by a mandated reporter.

These issues aren’t the half of it.

And this testimony is not for kicks and giggles.

This testimony is for the students who work hard every day and are still overlooked and overdue.

This testimony is for the teacher who cried because she couldn’t access her classroom because she had an injury at home.

This testimony is for the Whittier community, who despite being met with many obstacles still show up as Whittier Warriors every single day.

If the decision is still a blind “NO,” I hope you are prepared to explain to the students why DC government isn’t fixing the schools how the textbooks say they should.

Whittier deserves better. Thank you.

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