Testimony to DC Council Committee of the Whole Joint Public Roundtable on DCPS School Reopening (January 21, 2021)
Thank you Chairman Mendelson and Members of the Committee of the Whole for this opportunity to provide testimony on the re-opening of our schools. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education. I submit this testimony today as an individual member and not on behalf of the SBOE.
I first want to offer my appreciation for the work DCPS has done over the past few months. Offering schools choice about how to best bring some number of students back in-person has been better received than the previous one-size-fits-all plan. However, the shift towards more school-level decision-making seems to have solved one problem and created another. Some schools in Ward 6 have strong, clear communications and families feel well informed. Others families feel like the lack of clear plans from DCPS directly have left them in the dark as to what is happening in Term 3.
I am also grateful for the bright spot of vaccination priority for educators. However, while Mayor Bowser announced earlier this week that DCPS and public charter school teachers will be eligible to get vaccinated starting on January 25, she simultaneously failed to announce access for childcare workers. Many childcare providers have been working in person with very young children since late spring of last year. I hope that the Council will push to ensure that the teachers of our youngest residents are vaccinated concurrently with K-12 teachers.
Nearly all who testify today will offer feedback on the current plans for DCPS. I’d like to take a different approach.
I urge Council to begin asking NOW — what the plans are for supporting students this summer? Furthermore, what efforts are underway to design the plans for next school year? Asking these questions and getting answers NOW is imperative if we are to avoid the frustration and distrust that has marked the past months.
Families and students will need support this summer.
- What in-person options can we make available for all students?
- How can we maximize the parks and recreation space throughout DC to serve students outdoors?
- How can we harness community partners to ensure that options are available in every neighborhood, reducing the need for transit?
- How can we work with the organizations families already trust to serve their children?
Next school year cannot simply be a return to what we knew as “normal” last March. As poet Amanda Gorman so wisely said yesterday, “We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be.”
- How are we thinking about preparing to meet students at varying levels of academic readiness for their grade?
- How are we preparing to deal with trauma students have experienced?
- How are we planning NOW for a return that includes both in-person and virtual options?
I know that the DME and our LEAs, both DCPS and charter schools, have been working tirelessly to prepare for a return to school buildings, but the Council must ask NOW about plans for what is truly the not so distant future. Operating in crisis mode is sometimes unavoidable, but rarely in the best interest of our students and families.
You have the responsibility and capacity to support our education leaders and to urge them to shift their energies NOW to the essential recovery period ahead.