Testimony: DC Council Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery & COW Joint Oversight Hearing (May 26, 2021)

Thank you Councilmember Allen, Councilmember Gray and Members of the Special Committee for this opportunity to provide testimony. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education.

The children who walk into school buildings across the District this fall will return different than when they left back in March of 2020. The past year — a pandemic, a national reckoning with racially biased police violence, a year when hunger, housing instability and gun violence also took their toll — will have affected our students in uneven ways. Some will return with newfound independence borne out of either opportunity or necessity. Some will return having thrived in a virtual environment and others will have missed months of instruction because of poor internet connectivity. It is no understatement to say that the school routines of the past will be woefully out of step with the talents, capacities and needs of our students.

Today I offer a few critical areas I ask you to focus on as part of COVID recovery for our education system:

Equitable & Flexible Funding for Recovery

OSSE and LEAs are currently preparing plans for how they will spend federal ARP funding. I hope that what you hear today will also be provided as community input on those plans.

The SBOE recently conducted a survey of school principals across the District. Survey results will be made publicly available later this week, but there was a clear theme among the responses: Principals vary in how they are supporting their schools and students this summer and next fall. This makes sense. School communities vary and principals know their communities. Ensuring that recovery funding is adequate, equitable and flexible is essential to help meet specific needs of school communities. Adequate funding ensures that all schools can meet their needs. Equitable funding will ensure that schools with greater needs get more funding. Flexibility will allow a customized recovery, rather than a one size fits all approach.

Health, mental health and wellness

This should include both adequate funding for school-based mental health services and clear referral pathways to community based clinicians who can serve students and families close to home. It should also include opportunities for DC Health and local community health providers to collaborate with schools to help address lagging childhood immunization rates and other childhood health screenings for our students.

However, this must also include a more holistic approach to student health and well-being. It should include plenty of time in each school day for students to play, to spend time outdoors, and to have time for movement & mindfulness. It should also include ways to support the health and wellness of school staff and to provide staff the tools to help identify and refer students who may need additional interventions or support.

Expanding Safe Passage to Address Traffic Violence

Various agencies, including the Office of the Student Advocate, have been dedicated to the work of Safe Passage, helping ensure that all of our children both feel and are safe as they travel to and from school each day. Much of this work has focused on travel on bus and Metro and safety from bullying, harassment and physical violence.

I ask that you and others working on Safe Passage add a focus on keeping students safe from traffic violence. There has been a recent uptick in car crashes with devastating consequences for people walking and biking across the District. As our children begin to physically return to schools, we need the roads they commute on and cross to be safe for them however they travel. We need DDOT to work with DCPS and charter schools to ensure that the roads around all of our schools are safe for all users — especially children and families arriving at and leaving from school each day.

Focus on Childcare & Early Childhood Education

DC has been lauded for its decade-long universal, free, full-day pre-k programming for 3 and 4 year olds. The pandemic disrupted this essential work. It will take city leadership, clear and open communications, and a focus on joy to shore up confidence and enrollment in DC’s public early childhood education programs. Many families will be entering DC’s public schools for the first time when they send their children to them in the fall and they need to see the focus on building trust today. Schools must walk families through what to expect, how they will ensure that school is safe for students and teachers alike, and why preschool is so critical. Schools must show that families can trust them with their 3 and 4 year olds.

Similarly, we must ensure that our childcare providers have the resources and supports they need to reopen their doors at full capacity and to welcome families to return. Childcare providers are an essential part of the broader education system in DC and we need to include them in all discussions of recovery for this fall.

As a basic premise, all of our children should experience the coming years of school feeling safe and welcome and we should be prepared to make student-centered changes to serve our children in the ways that are best for them.



Official @dcsboe account for Jessica Sutter, Ward 6 Member of the DC State Board of Education. #Ward6 #Ward6schools

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Jessica Sutter

Official @dcsboe account for Jessica Sutter, Ward 6 Member of the DC State Board of Education. #Ward6 #Ward6schools