12 Aug 2019

Opinions:

City: Do Your Job. Protect Our Children.

Danica Petroshius and her husband are Capitol Hill residents and have two children, a rising 4th grader and a rising 6th grader, both attending Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (CHML). At CHML, Danica volunteers as a School Improvement Team member, a Local School Advisory Team member, PTSO Advocacy Committee Chair, and is a past PTSO President. She also serves as Vice President of the Ward 6 Public School Parents Organization.

Danica Petroshius and her family. Photo courtesy of Danica Petroshius.

I’m used to being in DC public schools, not just as a parent.

Since 2011, I’ve been in our schools over a thousand times. I’ve worked to improve all children’s access to increased educational opportunities and high-quality teachers. I’ve fought against lead in the water, against funding cuts and decaying buildings. It’s been hard. But never in my worst nightmares, did I think I’d have to fight so hard for a fundamental school safety issue: protecting our children from sexual predators.

On June 8, 2019, DCPS published the news that a Springboard Education staff employee was removed from my children’s school for
“alleged misconduct.” Springboard is provider of aftercare in 21 sites in DC public schools. However, DCPS concealed the underlying horror: the allegation was that the employee sexually assaulted a minor child.

First, I was shocked. Then I was frightened. Now I’m angry.

My anger is shared by a growing group of concerned DC parents, grandparents, community members, and educators.

Within 24 hours of learning from a WAMU story that the incident did, in fact, involve a minor, over 320 community members signed a letter asking questions of city leaders who have critical roles in keeping kids safe in schools: the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor of Education, the DCPS Chancellor, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the Public Charter School Board and the Councilmembers. We asked for a critical response –not names– and received zero substantive answers.

The Administration tried to cover up their utter neglect of their job to protect our children. Parents were in the dark. Even more troubling, the slow trickle of answers to the questions reveals ignorance and incompetence.

Over the past two months, our persistent questions and deep research have revealed painful truths. The city ignored or neglected the standard safety policies and procedures that would protect our children:

  • 31% of DCPS staff are out of compliance with background checks (first reported by Fox5News)
  • There is no enforcement of policies: Springboard Education could not prove records of compliance with safety policies (WAMU)
  • There have been at least 14 publicly reported instances of sexual misconduct in the last 4 years. Despite years of incidents, there is no comprehensive safety plan and NO enforcement of policies already in place
  • The city consistently and unnecessarily delays communications to communities about incidents (see: historical research and CHML incident research)
  • The Deputy Mayor of Education is unsure of what safety laws and policies charters have to follow, although charter schools educate half of our public school children). Furthermore, the District has only collected data on sexual misconduct in schools since January 2018 (DME August 8, 2019, letter)
  • There is no urgency to provide solutions. For example, Chancellor Ferebee has committed to ensuring all adults in schools are compliant with background checks by Sept 30 – a month after school starts (WAMU)

The stark reality is stomach-wrenching and blood-boiling. They gave protection policies scatter-shot attention. They are not doing their job.

This has not been unknown. The District of Columbia Council held hearings last fall and this Spring enacted a law called the School Safety Act. Likely well-intended, it is loose on ensuring agencies are implementing the most effective practices and policies and provides no critical sense of urgency, allowing agencies two years to act. It didn’t help the victim at CHML.

The cracks in our system are wide open for abuse. The cracks open the door for the cruelty of victim-shaming of children. The cracks make children afraid of adults. The cracks are huge welcome signs for bad actors.

Thanks to parent voices –as well as responsible journalism– this house of cards has collapsed. With trust shattered between parents and city leaders, we parents must continue to be the voices of our children. We must be vigilant as never before.

  • We must keep watch over the Mayor and her agency leaders, city council members, district administrators and school leaders.
  • We must insist on urgency and assure the creation of a transparent, comprehensive safety plan.
  • We must hold them all accountable.

Let’s continue this urgent fight together. We must demand a comprehensive solution that is unerringly, unwaveringly implemented every day. Only then will we be able to hold up a sign that reads, “Predators are not welcome here!”

While there is no “100% guarantee” that we can keep all bad actors out, we must never again be unsure that the city has done all it can to protect our children. The city must never again be unprepared to support our community when the unthinkable happens.

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