D.C. Council chamber
**FILE** The D.C. Council chamber at the John A. Wilson Building in D.C. (Courtesy of dccouncil.us)

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council deliberated on issues The Informer has covered over the past few weeks. The following is a recap of what has been done in the realm of Wilson High School’s renaming, Dr. Christina Grant’s approval as state superintendent and mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for District schoolchildren.

D.C. Council Moves Closer to Approving New Name for Wilson High School, with Some Pushback from Council member Lewis George   

A yearslong campaign to rename Woodrow Wilson High School continued in the D.C. Council’s initial decision to rename the Northwest public school in honor of the school’s first Black teacher Edna B. Jackson and former principal Vincent Reed.

On Tuesday, the first reading of the Jackson-Reed High School Designation Act passed with 11 council members voting in support. D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), a proponent for renaming the school solely for Jackson, voting “present.”

This development took place weeks after D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D) introduced the legislation out of regard for community members, including Jackson and Reed’s family, friends and colleagues, who testified at a previous hearing.

Amid last year’s racial justice protests and removal of confederate monuments, DC History and Justice Collective’s Wilson renaming campaign gained momentum as more people highlighted President Woodrow Wilson’s support of segregationist policies. Earlier this year, DC Public Schools [DCPS] announced that it would rename the school in honor of playwright August Wilson.

However,  a bevy of people contested the decision, arguing that local figures would be more appropriate. Other points of contention involved allegations that a contingent of people wanted to maintain the Wilson brand. The move to combine Jackson and Reed’s names stemmed from support for either name among 39 percent of people who participated in DCPS’ survey compared with 27 percent who voted for Wilson.

Some people, including the late Jackson’s niece, expressed support for naming the school only in honor of Jackson. During Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole hearing, Lewis George too explained her rationale for solely highlighting Jackson, saying that she faced intense racial animus and blazed a trail for other teachers and administrators, including Reed.

More to come on this issue later this month when the D.C. Council meets for a second reading on the Jackson-Reed High School Designation Act.

Dr. Christina Grant Officially Becomes State Superintendent of Education

All council members, with the exception of Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) absent due to a medical emergency, approved Dr. Christina Grant’s nomination as head of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education [OSSE]. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) nominated Grant in June after Grant’s predecessor, Hanseul Kang, announced her acceptance of a role at Yale School of Management’s Broad Center.

During her confirmation hearing in November, Grant, formerly of Philadelphia’s school system, doubled down on her commitment to conduct standardized tests and assess student academic achievement after a lengthy quarantine period. Other topics of discussion included teacher retention and expansion of charter schools.

On Twitter, Grant expressed gratitude for her confirmation and said, “My mission under the leadership of [D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser] is clear: to further make progress on our shared goals to restore and reinvigorate the District’s public education system and continue the progress we’ve made over the course of many years.”

D.C. Council Moves Closer to Approving Mandatory COVID Vaccinations for Schoolchildren

Council members took the first steps in approving mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for District school children. Eleven council members voted in support of the mandate with the exception of Gray who, again, was absent because of a medical emergency, and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) who opposed the legislation.

If passed, the Coronavirus Immunization of School Students and Early Childhood Workers Amendment Act would mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for District public, public charter and private school students. It would also mandate annual vaccination of school employees while directing physicians to submit immunization certificates for electronic records.

The legislation builds upon vaccination mandates Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) imposed earlier this year on student-athletes above the age of 12 and employees in the District’s public and public charter schools. It also follows the council’s approval of legislation allowing children to get vaccinated without parental approval. The latter incited fury among parents.

Amid discussions among mandatory vaccinations, some continue to harbor apprehension about taking that step.

As of Dec. 1, DC Health recorded more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases in the District’s public, public charter and private schools, most of which involved elementary students. With the availability of vaccines for young people five years and older has come the launch of clinics across the District. This builds on efforts by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to boost vaccination rates.

Meanwhile, White, whose constituency has been the focus on vaccination campaigns, spoke very succinctly when reflecting on mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I don’t believe the government should be mandating what people do with their bodies,” he said.

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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