Transitioning to fall
This week begins the transition from summer to fall routines, as well as the return of our newsletter!
First: Back to School! Along with many DCPS students and parents, I headed back to school last week by visiting Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Congress Heights. In-person learning in the age of COVID makes the first day of school more complex, but I was impressed with how smoothly students were welcomed and those who still needed COVID testing were handled. Many thanks to Principal Angel Hunter and her teachers and staff for being a reassuring presence to all of us that morning.
Best wishes to all our scholars and their families in the DCPS and DC public charter school systems. I know that many excited and nervous pre-k students (and their parents) made the 1st school drop-off toward the end of this week, as these youngsters begin their formal school experience!
That wasn’t my first in-person visit to a DCPS school in August; it was, in fact, my seventh. Along with Council colleagues and staff, I did some school readiness tours in the run up to the first day. What we found were some serious building maintenance issues, including persistent roof problems, which principals and staff have repeatedly reported to both DCPS and DGS, the Department of General Services. What was clear to me is that our work order system does not have the accountability, coordination, and follow through in place to actually get problems fixed. This is a structural systems issue, and though I know we have many hardworking employees in the Department of General Services and DC Public Schools, they are being handicapped by an ineffective process that puts an emphasis on closing out task orders rather than getting problems fixed. I'll be following up with more school visits in the coming weeks and working with Council colleagues to address the problem. Read more about this below.
The Council is heading back to a regular schedule as well. Since July 15, we have been on recess, which means that we have had no legislative meetings or hearings. That changes on September 16, when we officially come back in session.
Finally, I hope you all enjoyed an excellent Labor Day! I am proud of the work my Labor Committee has done to raise wages, improve our economy, and make sure work places are fair and just!
Fixing school maintenance issues. I visited several schools in August and one thing is clear: our school maintenance system needs repair.
More monkeypox info sharing. We asked DC Health to broaden communications and share data re: equitable vaccine distribution.
Migrants arriving in DC. DC government should be doing more to assist people arriving by bus from TX and AZ borders.
School year internship opportunity! We boosted funding so there are now 1,000 spots this year. Sign up!
Kids not vaccinated yet?
All students — whether they are attending DCPS, public charter, or independent schools — need to be up to date on their routine vaccinations to attend school — and this year, that includes being vaccinated for COVID.
BUT, if your child isn’t fully up to date already, you have a little more time. Last Friday the Office of the State Superintendent of Education announced it was pushing back the deadline to give schools more time to track proof of immunization and to encourage and assist families in getting the vaccines their children need.
- For regular pediatric vaccines, you’ve got until Oct. 11 for kids in pre-K to grade 5 and until Nov. 4 for students in grades 6-12.
- Schools will not enforce the requirement for COVID vaccination until Jan. 3, 2023 — the first school day after the winter break.
You can get the details and information about where to get vaccinations and how to submit proof of vaccination at https://dcpsstrong.com/vaccines/. You can get free vaccinations at COVID centers: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/covidcenters
There’s one thing about the start of school that I’m not excited about: school maintenance issues — some of them months and even years old — are not getting fixed.
I visited a half dozen schools in August and what I saw was disheartening and, quite frankly, unacceptable: roof leaks, unusable bathrooms and door locks that aren’t functional and more. It is not safe, as well as sends a terrible message to our students, parents, teachers and staff.
This is not the first time I and others on the Council have tried to get at the root of the school maintenance problem. One of the main problems appears to be the process. Schools report maintenance issues and the Department of General Services is responsible for repairs, in most cases. But the system seems more focused on getting work orders closed out than on fixing the problems. And there needs to be a better way to prioritize repairs — I’ve been a councilmember for eight years now but I was still shocked by some of the maintenance issues that were not getting fixed for months or years.
My team and I are working on this issue with Councilmember Robert White, who chairs the Government Operations Committee, with Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, who helped push recent legislation to improve school safety through more transparent reporting of school safety issues, such as non-working doors. Together, we are keeping the pressure on to make changes that will improve the way school repair requests are prioritized and resolved.
I will report back to you on progress in upcoming newsletters.
With cases of monkeypox rising quickly in cities around the country, including here in D.C., we have heard from parents and others who are not in the highest-risk groups for contracting the virus that they, too, are worried, and want to know how to protect themselves and their kids. I was joined by seven fellow Councilmembers in sending a letter to DC Health requesting that they share more data and communicate to a broader audience, not just those at highest risk, and not just those with ready access to social media and the internet.
I greatly appreciate that DC Health acted quickly and published an online dashboard with case and vaccination data broken down by ward and other demographics. This is an important tool that will allow all of us, including the public, to see how we’re doing with equitably meeting the health needs of all groups, a concern we saw clearly with the COVID vaccine rollout. We hope that DC Health will continue to expand information sharing and communication methods so that all residents can get the information they need to stay safe.
Vaccinations more broadly available
Meanwhile, the District has broadened eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine to include anyone who has had multiple sexual partners within the past two weeks, in addition to those who were already eligible. Residents can pre-register for a vaccine appointment or go to any of the walk-up clinics on Fridays.
Since April more than 8,700 people seeking asylum in the U.S. have arrived in D.C. on more than 100 buses from the Texas and Arizona borders. It’s shameful that the governors of those states are coldly using desperate people to score political points.
Mutual aid, churches and other nonprofit groups have stepped up. Volunteers have been donating time and money to provide food, temporary shelter, and even buy plane, bus and train tickets to help families reach their final destinations – usually someplace where they already have family. For 10 to 15 percent of those arriving, DC is their final destination and they need help finding housing, settling in, registering their kids for school, and so on.
In July, 10 Council members, including me, asked Mayor Bowser to take action, including: asking for federal funds, assigning district staff to support the effort, finding respite space for new arrivals, and opening our checkbook to financially support the work of the groups that are helping.
Mayor Bowser took the position that immigration is a federal issue and demands a federal solution and she twice asked the federal government to activate the DC National Guard, requests that were denied. (While I did not agree with this approach, it is outrageous that DC’s mayor does not have the power to activate DC’s own National Guard. One more reason we need #DCStatehood!)
I’ve heard from many residents on this issue and I agree: It's time for the District government to step up. We now have nearly 900 new unhoused DC residents and more arriving each week. At least 40 migrant children have enrolled in DC schools. We can continue to push for federal help, but we can’t sit back and wait for it. We must act.
My staff and I are meeting with aid groups and trying to determine needs and I hope to collaborate with the Mayor’s Office, neighboring jurisdictions in the DMV, and hopefully the federal government. Doing nothing is not an option and it’s time for DC to step up. You can expect to hear more from me in the coming days on this issue.
Creating paid job/training opportunities for high school students
I am committed to investing in our future workforce, which is why in 2021 the Labor Committee, which I chair, created a pilot School Year Internship Program within the Department of Employment Services-Office of Youth Programs for 250 District high school students. The program proved popular and successful and in the fiscal year 2023 budget we proposed and funded a permanent expansion of the program to provide internships for 1,000 high school students.
It's a great source of income to District youth, especially youth from under-resourced families, but, as important, these opportunities allow youth to build their resumes, sharpen their executive functioning skills, make connections with caring and invested adults, and learn about career pathways.
We also provided funding this year to reserve 100 internship slots for students who might need additional support due to truancy, involvement with the justice or foster care system, or likelihood of committing violent acts.
Interested? Register and join the official launch Sept. 6. at 4:30 p.m. Online applications will be open Sept. 6 to Oct. 1 and I encourage you to sign up early. The internships run Jan. 17 to June 9. More info and application form on the DOES SYIP website. (Businesses looking to offer an internship can you to the same website.)
Thank you, Duane and Jonah
This summer we hosted two Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (MBSYEP) interns for six weeks through the youth civic engagement organization, Mikva Challenge: Duane Hunter, a rising sophomore at the Delaware State University and Jonah Frumkin, a recent Jackson-Reed High School graduate who will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison Fall 2022.
Duane and Jonah researched ways to increase career pathways/opportunities for low income Black residents & returning citizens. Before leaving, they presented their findings to me and our staff.
High school students looking for school year internships should check out the DOES High School Internship Program (see above) and the OSSE Career and Technical Education Advanced Internship programs.
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