Testimony Before the District of Columbia State Board of Education

Aug 18, 2021

Good evening, President Parker and members of the Board. My name is Shantelle Wright and I am the Interim Director of Advocacy and Policy of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that all students in the District receive the great public education they deserve.

On behalf of the DC Charter School community, I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak with you about what public charter schools are doing to ensure health and safety remain our top priority as we reopen our buildings to students, and what uncertainties school leaders are still navigating that they could use support from the city with.

Putting the Health and Safety of Students and Staff First

As of today, approximately 10,000 public charter school students have already returned to in-person instruction, and by August 30, nearly all of the more than 43,000 students will be back in school.

And today, I’m proud to report that, while each local education agency is independent, 100% of them have committed to requiring staff to get vaccinated or comply with regular COVID-19 testing. Additionally, schools have upgraded their facilities where necessary to keep buildings safe and well-maintained for students and have purchased personal protective equipment to ensure that personnel and students continue to follow citywide health and safety guidelines for schools. Finally, schools are working hard to engage parents every step of the way through phone calls, emails, text messages, social media, and every available communication method so that they are informed on the most up-to-date safety precautions to feel confident that their scholars are safe and getting the high-quality education they deserve.

Uncertainties School Leaders are Navigating

However, there are still uncertainties that are difficult to plan for, and while I’m confident school leaders will be able to navigate them, we could use the city’s support as we move forward.

First, as of today, our school leaders have heard nothing from OSSE, which is administering the $10M in additional grants to charter schools to assist with reopening fully in-person, about the process for accessing the funds or when the funds will actually be dispersed to assist with reopening costs. At this point, the school year has begun for thousands of charter school students and leaders don’t know how much funding, if any, they will receive from the grant program or when that funding will be made available. That delay is unreasonable and insufficient.

Second, many school leaders have been told that school nurses will not assist with symptomatic or asymptomatic testing or support with students who experience COVID symptoms. This raises numerous concerns, including who will administer COVID tests and who will be responsible for the expenses incurred if new staff must be hired at each school to administer COVID testing. Further, to have nurses in schools who will not support staff with COVID related issues during a global pandemic makes no sense and is unacceptable.  Schools need their nurses working in tandem with them to ensure safe reopening for all stakeholders.

We’re confident that we can work together to solve these difficult uncertainties, and we appreciate your willingness to advocate on behalf of the DC Charter School community. You’ll hear from many other charter school leaders today who will talk more specifically about what they are doing to keep students and staff safe, and what concerns they still have about what they need for a safe return to school buildings.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.