During a recent visit to Lafayette Elementary School in Northwest, Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons learned that the elevator in the modernized school building had been out of commission for more than three weeks.
Out of regard for students and staff with special needs, an entire second grade class moved to the first-floor library. That in turn has impeded other students’ ability to explore the stacks and take out books, much to Lyons’ chagrin.
For Lyons, the situation brought to mind stories that teachers at Savoy Elementary School and Turner Elementary, both located in Southeast, have shared with her about broken toilets, leaking pipes and water damage in classroom ceilings.
Such conditions, the WTU leader said, shouldn’t be tolerated and call into question, not only the quality of material used to renovate schools but local agencies’ effectiveness in responding to concerns.
“They said they’re trying to make improvements on repair and response time but some things are an emergency,” Lyons said.
“Elevators aren’t working, which means you have concerns about moving classrooms to where students and staff with special needs have access,” she added. “It can affect how maintenance staff and other staff members can react to what’s going on in the building. It affects the whole school from top to bottom when things like the elevator aren’t working.”
In the weeks since Bowser released her FY 2023 budget proposal, parents and community members across the District have expressed concerns about the use of shuttered facilities and what they described as much-needed repairs to their neighborhood schools. Other areas of discontent to be addressed in a future Informer article center on the timeliness of the budget release and transparency in the use of local, federal and at-risk education funds.
As it relates to facilities, the future of the shuttered Winston Education Campus [EC] in Ward 7 has been called into question while parents at several schools in that ward continue to lament over malfunctioning amenities. Across the Anacostia River, in Ward 4, parents in the Brightwood Park community welcome the much-anticipated renovations to Truesdell EC but lament the process they must undergo to complete the two-year project.
While presenting her budget to the D.C. Council last month, Bowser indicated the shuttered Garnet-Patterson Middle School would serve as a temporary location, also known as a swing space, for Truesdell EC community members during the school’s modernization.
Apprehension among community members stems from the distance families would have to travel every morning and the lack of green space needed for elementary students to frolic.
There’s also some skepticism about whether Garnet-Patterson would be fully renovated by the fall of 2023, when Truesdell’s modernization has been slated to begin.
Some parents, like Zach Israel, said forcing families to commute nearly three miles to the U Street corridor will cause enrollment to plummet, as families and even teachers traveling from Maryland, look for other nearby schools. Over the last few weeks, Israel, who serves as commissioner of ANC Single-Member District 4D04, has requested that DC Public Schools [DCPS] and DC Department of Parks and Recreation construct modular swing space on one of the fields at Takoma Community Center in Northwest.
That situation, he said, could benefit families from Truesdell, Whittier Elementary School and Lasalle-Backus Elementary School.
“I feel very passionate about sending my child to Truesdell and would be willing to send him to the swing space but one that would be in Ward 4,” Israel said. “I haven’t met a single person who said they wanted Garnet-Patterson. I’m hoping that DCPS listens to what community members want.”
When it comes to upgrading school buildings, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s FY 2023 budget proposal allocates millions of dollars toward the full modernization of four schools in Northeast and Southeast, in addition to the construction of a new high school in Ward 3 and across-the-board HVAC upgrades.
In the latest juncture of a movement to divert some of that funding to Ward 7 schools, community members like Eboni-Rose Thompson continue to make an appeal for greater investments and clarity about where government dollars are going.
“It’s been clear that while we’ve been in the same storm throughout the pandemic, we’re still not in the same boat,” Thompson, Ward 7 State of Board of Education representative, said during a recent D.C. Council education budget hearing.
“The three dozen schools I represent continue to be small, under-resourced folks in choppier waters where the storm is stronger,” she said. “I represent a disproportionate number of families and schools that need repairs. I don’t want to return to normal coming out of the pandemic. Under-resourced and underserved have been normal for us.”