Covid Spreads, But Still No Data
Sandra Moscoso | January 12, 2021
This piece was written by DCOGC Board Member Sandra Moscoso and edited by Board Member Miranda Spivack.
This post is part of a series that will become a case study in the D.C. Open Government Coalition’s 2021 open government education and training program. We will post information soon early next year about how to enroll.
In the meantime, follow us on Twitter at @DCOGC, our Facebook page, and our new Instagram account to get word of each installment in this search for information about Covid and its impact on DC schools, day cares, and other places children gather.
Update on the FOIA request
Short update, nothing to share…. While DC Health’s General Counsel and FOIA Officer now have acknowledged my Nov. 18 FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for data about Covid-19 cases and outbreaks in schools, daycares, and student support centers, they have not otherwise responded. Bottom line: data has not been released.
We took a break over the holidays, but the virus did not
DC infections have continued to rise. Two weeks after DC Public Schools (DCPS) Winter Break began on Dec. 23, the city sustained 3314 positive tests.
- According to numbers reported on Jan. 7, 315 children ages 0-14 had tested positive for Covid-19 (from 1965 positive tests to 2280 on Jan. 6) in those two weeks.
In that same period, DC Public schools reported cases across six schools, with two 2 students and 22 staff testing positive. (Note, still no reporting on whether any daycare, private or charter school staff or students have been tested, or what the results from those tests are. )
Meanwhile, DCPS pressure to open school buildings is… confusing
DCPS announced that all public schools will open for some form of in-person instruction on Feb. 1.
The pressure to reopen schools is confusing.
There continue to be plenty of opinion pieces about why schools should open, and some DCPS and Non-DCPS families are advocating for reopening schools.
However, when you poll DCPS families, it’s complicated. DCPS released its reopening survey results on Dec. 24. Overall, families are generally split about virtual or in-person experience in elementary grades, and lean towards virtual for secondary grades, but when you dig down, preference varies by geography.
For elementary students, Ward 3, 6 and 4 families prefer in-person. Families in Wards, 7, 8 and 5 prefer virtual. Wards 1 and 2 are more evenly split.
For secondary students, Ward 3 families prefer in-person, Wards 5,7and 8 prefer virtual, and Wards 1, 2, 4, and 6 are split.
DCPS, while making the case for reopening school buildings in Term 2 (Nov 2020) has said seats will be offered via a selection process that will prioritize students furthest from opportunity. It is not clear within the released survey results whether the demand for in-person learning aligns with DCPS’ priority of serving students furthest from opportunity, but a view into DC poverty by geography (by Ward) suggests DCPS priorities and parent demand do not align.
Data from American Community Survey (ACS) about poverty status by age group and published on https://opendata.dc.gov/.
A recent article by two Johns Hopkins epidemiologists illustrates the very real risks to opening schools, while underscoring the role schools play in society and why communities should strive to keep them open. The key, though, is in their conclusion: “We can only move forward safely with in-person learning by being honest about the risks posed by Covid-19 in schools and the ways in which we can overcome them.”
So far, we are lacking this honesty and true transparency in D.C. from government agencies.The releases of information so far from D.C. Health and DCPS are confusing and difficult to understand. DC Health collects data, has the context of data in hand and blind spots, but at the point of sharing the data, it is diffused across multiple, disjointed platforms, or not shared at all.
How is a parent supposed to feel confident about the decision to send their students to school? How is a teacher supposed to feel safe?
We would love your thoughts. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned to keep up with our request. And come to our class next year where we’ll break it all down. Details soon.
- Dec. 15 – Council Period 23 Report of the Committee of the Whole report issued.
- Dec. 14 – Councilmember Silverman introduced “Pandemic Learning Emergency Act of 2020”, which “Requires transparency in specific education and public health data related to in-person learning, including COVID test results by school.”
- Dec. 7 – DC Health’s General Counsel and FOIA Officer responded that a search has started and the “deadline for a final response” for the request is set to “January 25, 2021, subject to extension should the Mayor extend the public health emergency and subject to reduction should the Mayor terminate the public health emergency earlier than December 31, 2020.”
- Dec. 3 – DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, when questioned about data on infections at big events (called “Covid clusters”), said at a press conference that the agency will release those data “when people can understand it and it won’t be misconstrued,” according to a reporter’s tweet.
- Dec. 2 – DC Council Committee of the Whole & the Committee on Education Public Roundtable on Return to In-person Instruction in DC Public Schools
- Dec. 2 – The mayor announced a new plan for testing even those without symptoms in the schools that are open – without a word about how the results will be shared.
- Nov. 23 – The Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA) issued recommendations for improved transparency on Covid-19 reporting, including “report new and cumulative COVID cases for all in person congregate settings for children, including all sectors of compulsory education (age 5 through 18)and all early childhood education and childcare centers (ages 0-5).”
- Nov. 18 – DC OGC board member and school parent Sandra Moscoso submitted a FOIA request to DC Health, acknowledged by the FOIA Portal, for the full set of data requested by Council member Allen.
- Nov. 18 – even so, the D.C. government’s coronavirus dashboard without fanfare started to include the number of cases and quarantines for students and staff at D.C. Public Schools (only). About 200 students returned to schools that day, far fewer than the school system predicted. No data are included in the dashboard on charter or private schools, daycares or student support centers, some of which have been open or partially open since the beginning of the school year.
- Nov. 18 – Allen later told parents that staff from D.C. Health confirmed that they do collect Covid-19 data related to schools and daycares, but the agency isn’t publishing it.
- Nov. 17 – Council member Allen included the Ward 6 group’s questions in the Council’s weekly list to the mayor’s office (an information system developed for the Covid-19 emergency to provide fast, on-the-record executive-branch answers to Council questions). The questions were:
- The number of cumulative and current active cases in the past seven days by setting, i.e., child care center or school, including traditional public, charter, and private.
- The number of students and separately the number of staff currently in quarantine due to Covid-19 by childcare center or school, including traditional public, charter, and private.
- The number of deaths due to Covid-19 of either staff or students who were in in-person childcare centers or schools, including traditional public, charter, and private (this doesn’t mean they had to have contracted Covid-19 in this setting).
- The cumulative number of outbreaks in childcare centers or schools, including traditional public, charter, and private and the definition being used to define an outbreak.
- Is this data being collected and tracked through our Contact Tracing? Can this be publicly reported on a regular and ongoing basis, perhaps weekly? If not, why?
- D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) was at the parents’ meeting. He agreed to follow up with D.C. Health to ask for specific data about Covid-19 cases in schools (and other settings for groups of children).
- Nov. 16 — the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO) met to share experiences of walk-throughs and concerns about the DCPS reopenings two days away. Schools’ plans had changed several times; facts were sparse, and therefore controversies arose about what’s best. Word had circulated that a DCPS principal was disciplined for even questioning assumptions on equipment readiness and other details of the plan.