Testimony of Zoe Rooney to the BOE, July 30, 2020

Good afternoon,

As an educator who has spent the last weeks worrying ceaselessly about being forced back into a classroom with broken asbestos tiles and limited ventilation in the midst of the pandemic, I am tired. As a parent of a child who has been utterly failed by both remote learning in general and the organizational failings of the district’s ESY program, and who has significantly regressed both behaviorally and academically in the last few months, I am exhausted.

The change to a 100% virtual start has alleviated some of my immediate panic over our family’s ability to stay safe. However, the failures in leadership underpinning this reopening saga are just another chapter in a longer history that shows me that we are just beginning a battle for our longer-term safety, and for a truly inclusive district that works with students, families, and educators as full partners.

I want to share a few points of concern with the agenda for the rest of this month’s action meeting:

  • There are still a number of non-essential action items on the agenda, which is unacceptable given that this is a special meeting that was called specifically to address reopening plans. All items other than the reopening plan and a few directly related items should be tabled until the August meeting and vote on only after public discussion during the August committee meeting.
  • Item 11, a $20,000 contract for a consultant to support communications to employees, is a waste of money. The district can improve communications without a consultant, they’ve just chosen not to in the past. Put that money towards internet hot spots or just about anything else instead.
  • Item 12, contracts for textbooks and instructional aids, is way too general to be meaningful at all and should be tabled until after a presentation at the August committee meeting that specifies which materials are being purchased and why, which companies they are from, and how they meet the needs of both remote and hybrid learning models, as well as the need for an overall antiracist approach to teaching and learning.
  • Item 17 should be voted down. Students have been bringing concerns about mental health supports, eliminating policing in schools, and creating antiracist school environments to the Board for more than a year. It is frankly insulting that after years of testimony about students’ and educators’ needs with regards to trauma, the district is now proposing this medley of outside contracts while ignoring the actual policies and mandates in place that prevent those of us already in schools from addressing trauma. We’ve asked for any number of systems changes that have yet to materialize, and this expenditure on contractors is not a substitute or a replacement. Use the money for something else.

Regarding the reopening plans:

  • There needs to be a specific, incremental, data-based plan for how and when various subgroups will be phased back in to in-person learning. I would argue that it should be broken down further than anything the district has discussed publicly so far, similar to this status model from another district: https://www.nsd.org/covid19/northshore-learns/status
  • There needs to be significant, meaningful, and ongoing work to include students, families, and educators in every aspect of planning for both the immediate remote learning and later moves to hybrid and fully in-person learning. Surveys are not meaningful communication.
  • There also needs to be an ongoing, transparent, and collaborative effort to make building upgrades and improvements while we are out of the buildings. Please act immediately on the promises made in January that have yet to be fulfilled to implement an Environmental Health and Safety working group that includes the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative, as well as members of ALL major stakeholder groups. Please also post publicly the schedules and plans for work on all school buildings, keep it updated, and show how various projects are being prioritized to allow for a safe reopening.

Thank you in advance for striving to do better in the future.

Zoe Rooney
(parent and teacher)