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Ward 4 Dispatch: Back to School Edition

Dear Neighbors,

A lot has happened since the last time I got to write to you. I’ve spent the last two weeks touring every Ward 4 DCPS school (some multiple times) to follow up on outstanding maintenance work with DC agencies, as well as pressing for additional measures to be taken to protect the health and safety of students and educators this school year. I’m grateful that some new measures were announced today, but I still share many of the concerns that many families have about returning to in-person learning.

There will be two Back 2 School giveaways in Ward 4 tomorrow, so if your family is in need of school supplies or a new backpack stop by Brightwood Elementary (10am-2pm) or Emery Heights Rec Center (1pm-4pm) to pick some up. Even if you’re all set on supplies, there will be food, games, and plenty of activities for children so come on out.

Also excited to share that my team will be expanding with the addition of a new constituent services coordinator to join Matt and Tamira. If you know someone who could be a great fit, please let them know so they can apply!

Back to School Updates

Layered Protections for Student Health and Safety

There’s no getting around that this is an incredibly difficult time for families. Parents are understandably anxious about the risk of their child contracting COVID at school but also recognize the importance of in-person learning, especially since so many students haven’t been in a classroom since early 2020. I have also spoken to many educators who mirror these concerns as they prepare to welcome back students in their classrooms. I want to first lay out some of the steps DCPS has taken to mitigate the risks that students, teachers, and staff face this school year. These layered protections are described in more detail on the DCPS Reopen Strong website and in communications shared by DCPS and schools with parents.

  • Mask mandate. Every person on school property is required to wear a face mask, which can only be removed when eating, drinking, or during nap time for pre-k students. This also applies to outdoor recess and athletics, except when actively playing.
  • Lunchtime. Cafeterias were outfitted with large HEPA filters to allow older students to more safely eat there, while pre-k and kindergarten students will eat in their classrooms to limit exposure. Several schools are doing lunch outside. 
  • HEPA filters. Every classroom is outfitted with a medical-grade high-efficiency particulate absorbing (“HEPA”) air filter to improve filtration and ventilation. There are also UV lights in places like bathrooms to keep germs present from replicating.
  • Weekly testing. A random sampling of 10-20% of students and all unvaccinated staff will be tested for COVID each week, with results being made available to families and staff within 6-8 hours. School communities should be notified of positive test results within their student’s classroom or school building.
  • Quarantining. When a student or staff member tests COVID positive they’ll have to isolate for at least 10 days and show improvement of symptoms (including 24 hours) without fever before returning to school. There will also be quarantine requirements for anyone who comes into close contact with someone who tests positive.
  • Limiting visitors. With very few exceptions, parents are not allowed to enter the building for student drop-off or pick up. Also, other school visitors must be pre-approved, complete a health assessment, and always wear a mask on school grounds. 

Updates to DCPS Plans and Changes Still Needed 

Today after advocacy from concerned parents, educators, and community and education leaders, OSSE announced two important changes to its testing protocol. First, effective August 30 students will be automatically eligible for symptomatic and random asymptomatic COVID testing, which will be done through a non-invasive, saliva-based PCR test. Parents, guardians, and students over the age of 18 can now opt out through a form on OSSE’s website. Under the previous opt-in system, there were wide disparities in which schools had collected a sufficient number of filled out consent forms, threatening DC’s ability to effectively test enough students. Secondly, a broad waiver of liability has been removed from the testing consent form. This waiver was dissuading many parents from signing the consent form. 

Although helpful, these steps fall short of the broader measures I and other Councilmembers have asked to be taken to protect the health and safety of our students. For weeks I have been asking OSSE to make its medical requirement less restrictive so all students or students with family members with medical conditions that put them risk can instead have a virtual option. I and others also have been asking for and support a high-quality virtual option, especially for students who are younger than 12 and thus aren’t eligible for the vaccine. A majority of the Council sent a letter calling for a full vaccine mandate for DC employees in education and child care settings now that the FDA has given full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. DC already has a vaccine mandate for government employees, but it allows for opting out and instead being tested on a weekly basis. I will keep advocating for these and other measures to help make this school year as safe as possible, and I know other Councilmembers and community members will too. . 

Touring Every Ward 4 School to Resolve Outstanding Issues

Over the past two weeks I toured 17 DCPS schools in Ward 4 to see first hand how our schools were preparing to welcome students back to in-person learning, which we know can be critical to educational achievement and social-emotional development. I want to extend my gratitude to school principals and leaders, and our partners in the administration for making these tours possible. I was moved by the care, dedication, and enthusiasm our school leaders, teachers, and staff showed during each of my visits. They’re working incredibly hard to make this a great school year for our students. 

I had staff from DCPS Central Office and DGS join me during each tour so they could immediately follow up on outstanding maintenance work and needed supplies. My preference to give families a virtual option was heightened during these tours, when I learned that some of our schools still had significant facility maintenance issues. To be clear: the vast majority of our schools are ready for Monday’s reopening with only minor outstanding needs, some of which are being addressed over the weekend. And I’m grateful to DCPS and DGS employees now working around the clock to get our schools to where they need to be. 

That said, multiple schools continue to have alarming issues with their HVAC system that impact air circulation and cooling, as well as leak concerns that should have already been resolved. For example, I was deeply disappointed to learn during my visit today that Takoma Elementary School’s HVAC system is still not operational. I will be going back there on Sunday to assess the situation and see what steps need to be taken. Frankly, we should not be cutting it this close, and many of these issues I’m seeing should have been addressed weeks or months earlier. I’ve also communicated the pressing issues at Takoma and other Ward 4 schools to the Mayor, the Chancellor, and the directors of other relevant DC agencies. I communicated my expectation that agencies work throughout the weekend to complete urgent work orders and ensure schools are ready to reopen safely on Monday. We also need more transparency and clearer communication with school communities impacted by these issues. 

This is not the update I expected to write two days before the start of school, but it’s important to me that I be honest about the state of our schools and where we need to do better in the future. This school year will be challenging, so we owe it to students to provide education spaces that facilitate learning, not create barriers to it. I’m grateful to all the parents, students, and educators who have been speaking to me so I can act on these issues. I’ve heard from a lot of families at Powell Elementary, so I wanted to make sure you saw the update I shared earlier after two follow-up visits at the school this week. Please continue to share your concerns with me and use me and my team as a resource for improving our schools.

Ward 4 News

Modernized West Elementary Was Rededicated to John Lewis

Yesterday we gathered with the West school community and many neighbors who braved the heat to celebrate the beautiful new school building for West Elementary, and rededicated the school to American hero and Civil Rights champion John Lewis. The new school facility is incredible, and I hope you visit it when you get the chance. It includes construction of an outdoor amphitheater, ball field, playgrounds, and other site elements. This is one of the District’s first Net Zero Energy-Ready and WELL Certified School, meaning the school produces all energy on site and burns no fossil fuels. That means cleaner indoor air for children to breathe, less climate pollution, and savings on utility costs. Check out the photos from the ribbon cutting and rededication.

West’s renaming is part of the District’s process to evaluate the legacy of the people who our DC government-owned buildings and schools are named after and choose new names the individual’s actions or beliefs clashed with our values as a city. In this case, Joseph R. West was a US Senator from Louisiana and former general in the Union Army who infamously gave the order to torture and murder an Apache chief, who had come to meet with him to discuss terms of peace. I’m grateful West students will soon be able to instead look to John Lewis, who dedicated his life to upholding human rights. The Council will move legislation to officially rename the school this Fall.

In addition to our DC agencies and contractors, I want to thank the West students, educators, and staff for their patience with all the disruption that had to happen to create this beautiful new education space. I also want to thank the neighbors who sacrificed their parking spots for so long during construction. Shoutout as well to the great Principal Jackson, Commissioner Maria Barry, and our Ward 4 SBOE Rep Frazier O’Leary. While growing up kids are often told to stay out of trouble, but here at John Lewis Elementary School we can proudly encourage our students to create good trouble, righteous trouble, courageous trouble in pursuit of justice and in defense of the rights of all people.

Updates on the COVID Vaccine and Testing

Unfortunately, DC has not been spared from the nationwide surge in COVID cases and fatalities. Even with DC’s relatively high vaccination rate, many of our neighbors have yet to be vaccinated and are far more susceptible to the virus. And as the Delta variant spreads (it is now the predominant strain in the District) we are seeing more breakthrough COVID cases, where even a small number of fully vaccinated individuals are testing positive for COVID (though being vaccinated vastly reduces the risk to COVID and leads to milder symptoms). To that end, I wanted to share some important updates in DC’s COVID response:

  • DC is offering Test Yourself kits that allow you to take a COVID test at home without having to wait in line at a testing site. These tests were already available for pick up and drop off outside Petworth Library and Shepherd Park Library. The Mayor just announced an expansion of the program, adding Lamond Recreation Center (20 Tuckerman St NE) as a new site for Test Yourself kits starting Monday, August 30.
  • DC is also making it easier for residents to be vaccinated by bringing the vaccine to you! Just call 855-363-0333 and arrange for DC Health to come administer the vaccine in your home. This was already available to residents who faced barriers to leaving their home independently.
  • And as many of you have already heard, the FDA gave full authorization to the Pfizer vaccine. Hopefully this firm seal of approval helps persuade your vaccine hesitant relatives and neighbors to get their shot!

Ward 4 Back to School Giveaways

I’m also excited to share that tomorrow (Saturday, August 27) includes not one by two major Back 2 School giveaways for Ward 4 families! Come to Emery Heights Rec Center from 1pm-4pm if you need a new backpack or school supplies – or just to enjoy the food, games, and activities. Shoutout to the Friends of Emery and Elephant Tribe for planning this for our community and partnering with me. Also, earlier in the day from 10am-2pm Georgia Avenue Family Support Collaborative is hosting a Back to School Pop Up with several partners and sponsors. Stop by to get a new backpack, school supplies, and enjoy games for the whole family! Find more details on both events in the flyer below!

Neighborhood Events

Upshur Day: 14th Annual Six Months Moratorium To Stop The Killings Cookout and Amateur Boxing Match. On Saturday, August 28 from 12pm-8pm at Upshur Recreation Center (4300 Arkansas Ave NW) Cease Fire…Don’t Smoke The Brothers & Sisters and DPR are co-hosting a cookout and amateur boxing match to bring our community together and promote an end to gun violence. Come out for the music, free food, boxing, health checks, and much more.

March and Rally for Voting Rights and DC Statehood. On Saturday, August 28 starting voting rights groups from across the country are planning a concert and rally for voting rights and DC statehood at the Lincoln Memorial honoring the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington. There will be a Freedom Concert at 10am followed by a rally that starts at 4pm. More details can be found here.

Closing Reception for New Art of Noize Exhibition. On Saturday, August 28 from 3pm-7pm Art of Noize is hosting a closing reception for its exhibition Nyce Life, featuring the work of Kev Nyce. He is a son of the District and self-taught musician with a passion for photography and videography, a love for constructing moving visuals with ill imagery, and an ability to curate a dope soundtrack. Find out more about Kev Nyce on his website.

Petworth Summer Saturdays Continue in August! On Saturday, August 28 from 5pm-7pm Petworth Summer Saturdays will host another concert with soul-rock band Manic Obsession. Memory lane is where they go, but a new flavor is how they roll. Come one come all. Performance take place in front of Willow on Upshur Street, NW – with great music and excellent food and drink options nearby.

10-Year Anniversary of the Closing of Walter Reed. On Saturday, August 28 from 1pm-6pm there will be a social gathering celebrating the legacy of WRAMC’s 102 years of flagship medical treatment, training, and service. It will take place at Legendary Takoma Station Tavern (6914 4th St. NW) as indoor-outdoor event where masks are required. For more information, please call: 202-369-5644.

16th Street Neighborhood Association Summer Block Party! On Saturday, September 4 from 12pm-4pm the 16th Street Neighborhood Association is hosting its annual summer bash at the 1500 Block of Allison St NW. The rain date is Sunday, September 5 at the same time. There will be food, games, music, special kids events, and more… Hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie options, ice cream, and beverages will be provided. Bring a dish to share!

Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail and Pedestrian Bridge Project Public Meeting #2. On Tuesday, September 7 at 6:30pm-7:30pm DDOT and NPS will host their second public meeting to update the public on the construction progress made year to date and outline construction activities for the next phase of the Rehabilitation of Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail and Pedestrian Bridge project. RSVP here to attend.

Housing Rights & Accomodations: Disability and Long Covid. On Tuesday, September 7 at 6pm-7:30pm the Equal Rights Center will join Douglass CLT to share a presentation on Housing Rights for people with disability, including the effects of Long Covid. Join them to learn about what counts as a “disability,” what modifications or exceptions you are entitled to ask for to improve your living situation, and where you can receive assistance if your rights are not being respected. RSVP and find more information on Eventbrite.

Save the Dates: Main Street Park(ing) Day and Art All Night! On Friday, September 17 from 9am-4pm Uptown Main Street will host Main Street Park(ing) Day on Kennedy Street. Then a week later on Friday, September 24 from 5pm-11:30pm Uptown Main Street will host Art All Night 2021! This free arts festival will include live music, documentary screenings, visual arts and more! Volunteer for either event by emailing More details to come!

Save the Date: Chevy Chase Day. On Saturday, September 18 from 1pm-4pm the Chevy Chase Citizens Association is bringing back Chevy Chase Day on Connecticut Avenue at the Commons. Plan to come for the music, puppet show, juggler, magician, balloon art, outdoor yoga, sidewalk chalk art, the free ice cream giveaway, and so much more!

Save the Date: Tour de Roosevelt! On Sunday, September 19 at 10am at the main entrance of Roosevelt High School (4301 13th St NW) Roosevelt High School its annual community bike ride! The event is free and open to all riders regardless of age skill level. The ride will follow Roosevelt’s in boundary geographic feeder map. Please RSVP at this link. Remember to wear orange and blue, wear a helmet, and bring water and a snack.

Save the Date: The Parks Main Street Art All Night. On Friday evening, September 24 the Parks Main Street will host Art All Night, a free arts festival that showcases performances from musical, visual, and movement artists. If you’re interested in performing or vending at the festival, fill out this form!

Save the Date: Celebrate Petworth! On Saturday, September 25 between 11am-5pm Celebrate Petworth makes its grand return. This is a free neighborhood festival organized by and for the residents of Petworth—celebrating the creativity, diversity, culture, and people of Petworth and its surrounding neighborhoods. It takes place on the 800 block of Upshur Street NW and features a Kids Zone with music, a Fire Engine, a soda explosion experiment, chalking, and a Balloon Bounce Community Art Project!

Save the Date: Open Streets Returns to Georgia Avenue. On Saturday, October 2 from 10am-3pm Open Streets will return to Georgia Avenue in Wards 1 and 4. During that time period, a miles-long stretch of Georgia Avenue will close to cars and will instead host an urban festival of activities ranging from food, drinks, fitness classes, obstacle courses, children’s games, live music, and other educational and entertainment programming.

Save the Date: Down in the Reeds Festival. On Saturday, October 9 from 11am-7pm Down in the Reeds Festival is back in Ward 4 hosted by The Parks at Walter Reed! It’s a free all-day festival celebrating the power of music to heal across communities and cultures. Check out the website for ways to plug in and follow them on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram for updates as the festival takes shape.

Ward 4 Weekly Farmer’s Markets. We have: 

Community Resources

Team Janeese Is Expanding! I am looking for a new dynamic, caring constituent services coordinator to complement Matt and Tamira in supporting and empowering Ward 4 residents. Please take a moment and share the job listing with any of your neighbors who could be a great fit. Looking forward to having an even bigger team supporting our communities.

Important Changes to DOES Unemployment Benefits. Starting next week on September 4, there will be drastic changes to unemployment benefits due to the end of federal funding for unemployment benefits. I want to make you’re prepared, so I’m sharing this helpful flyer from the Legal Society of DC and summarizing these changes below:

  • If you are an independent contractor who receives Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments, those payments will end
  • For those who receive regular unemployment benefits, the $300 added payment to your weekly payments (FPUC) will end
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which extended the time period you could receive regular unemployment benefits, will also end
  • The Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation(MEUC) program also ends 
  • And starting this Monday, August 30, the work search requirement goes back into effect. That means claimants must complete two job contacts (work search activities) per week as part of their weekly filing.

New Kids Ride Free SmarTrip Cards! DC students between the ages of 5-21 who are enrolled in an elementary or secondary public, public charter, private, or parochial school located within the District are eligible for the new Kids Ride Free SmarTrip cards. New cards will be sent directly to all DC Public Schools and DC public charter schools for distribution, allowing families to pick up cards directly from their child’s school. Current cards (blue) remain valid until September 30, 2021. Find more information here.

Even with all the challenges and concerns that this new school year brings, I know our Ward 4 scholars will give it their best and make great strides at their schools. Come Monday morning I’m excited to join our educators to welcome back students at their schools.

I leave you with this reminder from a classroom in soon-to-be John Lewis Elementary School that education is an act of empowerment and liberation for our students, who will go on to change the world!

Yours in Community,