Three weeks from D.C. Public Schools #ReopenStrong plan, parents and teachers say they have no answers

WASHINGTON (WDVM) — D.C. Public Schools will welcome back an estimated 21,000 elementary students in about three weeks, but almost 2,500 community members are voicing concerns over the safety of the #ReopenStrong Term Two plan.

One parent, Alexandra Simbana, said, “It’s not safe. It’s just simply not safe.” Simbana is one of 2,454 people who have signed the Washington Teachers’ Union’s #OnlyWhenItsSafe petition. Simbana said, “The Mayor is pushing to send children back to school when she just, a week ago, extended the State of Emergency into December.”

Simbana has a personal reason to fear the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in May, she was hospitalized after contracting the virus. Additionally, her twin babies also contracted the virus. Though now recovering and back home, she said she will not send her third grader back to schools until there is a vaccine.

Whether or not a family has a personal connection like Simbana, the concern over the virus is valid. “Cases are rising again as you probably know. We’re heading towards our third peak, and it doesn’t strike me as viable to do this,” said another parent and President of HSA for School Without Walls High School, Sandra Moscoso.

On top of safety concerns centering school HVAC systems, the public is still waiting for specifics on the reopening plan. “When I say there are unanswered questions, I mean I don’t think a single thing has been answered. Everything is unanswered,” said foreign language teacher Melissa Deokaran. “How are you planning to reopen schools when you can’t answer basic scheduling questions? When you don’t have a plan for a large percentage of our faculty, staff and students?”

While parents can choose to keep their children at home, teachers are not getting that same choice. Deokaran said, “Basically, you had to meet these requirements to be eligible to stay at home. I feel a bit like a sacrificial lamb.”

Deokaran added, “When we ask about safety, they tell us we’re going to stay in small cohorts. When we ask how this is going to work for teachers who rotate, they say they haven’t figured it out yet, and I just think, if not now then when?”

Community members hope that clarity will come on Friday, October 23, when D.C. Council holds a meeting with DCPS to discuss reopening specifics. Councilmember Brooke Pinto said, “It’s not just providing answers to the councilmembers, it’s about providing answers to the public and our families who are very frustrated right now. It’s already such a challenging year with so much uncertainty.”

Deokaran said, “What we’re looking for is some indication that they’re not only addressing basic safety concerns but then going the extra to make sure that in a pandemic, it’s taken care of.”

Some community members are frustrated with the October 23 meeting already, because it is not currently available for the public to comment. Moscoso said, “It is like an entire chain of suppressing democracy, and suppressing our voices, and it’s wrong because it’s our kids.” Moscoso explained that she feels the suppression began with DCPS suddenly firing SWWHS Principal Richard Trogisch, and is continuing with D.C. Council only hearing from DCPS at the meeting on October 23.

For more on DCPS reopening plan, click here.

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