Still Crickets on Our Request for Data on Covid in Schools and Daycares, and Watch This Space for Plans for Open Gov Training
Sandra Moscoso | June 1, 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 upcoming D.C. Open Government Coalition’s open government education and training program. We are planning to hold our first session on Zoom will be held July 20 at 6:30 p.m., so watch this space for more details soon.
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-19 and its impact on schools, day cares, and other places children gather.
Kids are back, but data are scarce
It’s been a while since we last blogged about our pursuit for data and details about Covid cases in school and daycare settings in DC. Some things changed, DC Health introduced a K-12 dashboard that offers some more granular information. Some things stayed the same. There’s a dashboard, but DC Health is still not reporting denominators, such as the number of students attending schools in person, or number of students tested. This means the public still does not have a clear picture of the spread of Covid-19 in schools and daycares, and therefore parents, teachers, school aides, custodians, and anyone else in these group settings, remain essentially in the dark.
Here are a few updates…
Sometime around mid March, DC Health introduced a “K-12 Schools” dashboard (https://coronavirus.dc.gov/data/schools).
It was exciting at first, as you can see cases by school, and by sector (public, charter, private), instead of scrolling through individual announcements about DCPS cases. But wait! The excitement wore off once we (transparency advocates and parents across DC) realized that critical information is still missing. That is, the number of students and adults in the building and number of students and adults tested are still not being reported to the public by DC Health.
The Real Transparency Heroes: Tenacious experts have emerged to give you data on school and daycare covid cases
While DC Health may continue to lag in delivering adequate transparency (and at times, accuracy 😱) around Covid cases, the parent and open gov communities have stepped in.
Data scientist and Covid-watcher, Ryan Stahlin, a DC resident, continues to publish DCPS cases by school on his now 6 month old platform, https://dccovid.com/).
DCPS Parent and Mathematics Teacher Educator, Dr. Dana Grosser-Clarkson, maintains a table of cases and quarantine numbers.
Anonymous Twitter handle @DCPSCovidCases brings visibility to daily case announcements by DC Public Schools.
It’s exciting to see our city begin to reopen and even more exciting to look forward to all students getting back to full-time in-person instruction in the fall, but the fact remains that the pandemic is still not behind us. Only 8.5 percent of DC 16-19 year olds are fully vaccinated (as of May 14, 2021), and 12-15 year olds are now getting the jab. PK-Elementary School students are not yet eligible for vaccines.
Ending Right Back Where We Began
The school year is winding down, and it’s been just over six months since we began this endeavor with a FOIA request to the DC Department of Health . While a lot has transpired in that time, one thing that has not happened, sadly, is that we still don’t have an answer to that request…
Kicking off Open Gov Training with Education
We will hit pause on blogging about Covid cases in school and daycares for now, but we’re thrilled to announce that our first Open Gov training session is coming up on July 20, 2021 and inspired by the past year of scrutiny into schools, we will kick off this series by focusing on transparency in schools and education. More details coming very soon. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org on any open government issues that concern you. Drop us a line now to that email if you want to attend our upcoming training. Stay tuned to keep up with our request. And come to our class in July where we’ll break it all down.
Timeline (for those following along):
- Jan. 21 – DC Health’s General Counsel and FOIA Officer sent an update that the deadline for my request has been extended to March 31, 2021.
- 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).