In the weeks following the full revival of in-person learning by schools, parents and teachers lobbied district leaders to expand virtual options.
Many took to social media, attended a DC board roundtable, and submitted letters expressing their views while others, like Kavitha Kasargod-Staub, took more extreme measures.
For the sake of their safety, Kasargod-Staub kept her children at home and supplemented their education with programs closely aligned with their classes.
School officials have since reported her to the Child and Family Services Agency [CFSA}, which set in motion an investigation that includes a home visit and interviews exclusively with the children.
âIâve been very clear with CFSA [that] this is COVID, âsaid Kasargod-Staub, whose children are enrolled at Powell Elementary School in the northwest.
Kasargod-Staub said his decision to keep his children at home stemmed from doubts about elements of the DC Public School Safety Plan (DCPS) and the ability of school officials to consistently execute it.
Weeks before the start of the school year, Kasargod-Staub observed school officials closely, and then 4 DC Ward Council member Janeese Lewis George, attempting to secure HVAC repairs for Powell.
She said the decision to reopen without giving parents a virtual option does not take into account their concerns about COVID-19 or the severity of the Delta variant.
âWe have an incredibly high number and pediatric beds are busy at Children’s National,â Kasargod-Staub told The Informer.
âThe mayor is asking me to choose between teaching in person and my child’s health,â she continued. “We are very attached to our public school and stay there and watch it thrive. [but] we are in a very difficult position.
A standoff between the government and parents
District law requires referrals to the CFSA in cases where students aged 5 to 13 have more than 10 full days of unexcused absences. As of September 22, the CFSA has received 73 reports of what is considered potential educational neglect, of which 43 have since been reviewed.
Of those 43, a dozen turned into investigations. The remaining 30 reports are currently under review by the Educational Neglect Triage Unit.
The group, through interviews with school officials and parents, works to resolve attendance issues and determine whether a situation requires a child protection investigation.
If this happens, a social worker works with the school for an intervention plan and conducts an investigation focused on the existence of evidence of educational neglect.
A CFSA representative told The Informer that each referral is independently reviewed taking into account all factors, including parental apprehension about COVID-19.
The CFSA, in accordance with district attendance laws, has expressed no intention of showing deference to parents concerned about COVID-19.
Although DCPS offers virtual options, students can only receive them with an approved medical exemption.
This is why parents and elected officials have rallied to the call for the extension of virtual options. Carlene Reid, representative of the DC Ward 8 State Board of Education, recently sent DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) a letter making the request.
Last week, nearly 100 parents and community leaders followed suit, writing individual letters to Bowser and the DC Council with a list of demands, including the creation of a virtual option, mandatory vaccinations for teachers, the expansion of outdoor learning spaces, penalties for administrators who report parents to the CFSA and DC Health branch of contact tracing in schools.
Easier said than done
As of September 15, DCPS had reported 656 cases of COVID-19 for the academic year. This amount represents almost 40% of COVID-19 cases reported in all schools in the district.
At the DC Council’s Education Roundtable on September 21, Chancellor Lewis Ferebee touted a system-wide strategy focused on prevention, testing and information dissemination. Schools are enforcing universal masking and social distancing amid improvements to the CVC system and an ongoing campaign to increase the number of vaccinations.
In terms of asymptomatic testing, DCPS has committed to testing 10% of students per week, especially those who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine.
When a student or staff member contracts COVID-19, schools follow the health and safety guidelines outlined by DC Health. They are also launching a contact tracing survey, educating the school community, and initiating a process to clean and disinfect the affected spaces.
People eligible for quarantine should be within six feet of the infected person for more than 15 minutes within two days of that person testing positive.
“I want to recognize [that] this school year is different for our parents, âFerebee told board members on September 21. âEvery aspect has been redesigned and our students and staff are working hard to learn new routines and protocols.
However, a growing contingent of teachers, including David Ifill, said following the new protocol was easier said than done.
Since the start of the school year, Ifill, a music teacher at a public school, has been afraid of contracting COVID-19 in an environment he described as stressful for teachers juggling their responsibility to their profession and the new procedures. .
As a member of the DC Caucus of Rank and File Educators, Ifill advocated for virtual options, much like what he said that DCPS central office staff already have at their disposal.
âI really see maskless children running around. The three-foot social distance is not maintainable, âsaid Ifill. âContact tracing is almost impossible because children change cohorts. It’s as if things [administrators] were trying to get out the window. It’s visually frustrating for us, but we have to keep smiling.