Washington Area Women's Foundation

Kristi Matthews Testimony On Behalf of the DC Girls’ Coalition

Chairman Phil Mendelson Committee of the Whole

Agency Performance Oversight: All Education Agencies March 9, 2021

Good Afternoon, my name is Kristi Matthews and I am the Coordinator for DC Girls’ Coalition. The DC Girls’ Coalition works to elevate and amplify the voices of young women, girls, femmes, gender non-conforming and transgender girls/women of color in the District of Columbia. DCGC, comprised of youth-serving and advocacy organizations, that adopts and fights for the implementation of policy recommendations that centers youth leadership and addresses their needs. We are currently managed by our Youth Advisory Board made up of young girls of color and gender nonconforming people of color ages 11- 22 years old.

Today, my testimony will focus on the following issues: mandatory reporting, increasing consent at 16 within education, youth centered approaches to responding to the pandemic, and police free schools. The first issue I will testifying about is mandatory reporting. We know that there is an issue with under-reporting issues of neglect and abuse that are serious for youth and children of color. I personally have been told of many incidents in which youth have shared issues with abuse and neglect and were not taken seriously or believed. We also know they are over-reporting issues that are not at a level of abuse or neglect for youth of color. Within our coalition we have many stories of youth having CPS called to their homes because they came to school late or missed breakfast without anyone talking with them first and seeing if there were reasons for these incidents. We are requesting that DCPS first address the issue of reporting by first making it clear to youth what leads to a cps call and who mandated reporters within their schools using placards within schools. We are also asking that children and youth receive regular classes or training on issues that will lead to mandated reporting.

Another major issue we are working on is consent at 16. We know that there are many youth who are navigating government systems without adult or family support. This becomes a difficult task when you are trying to transfer to a different school, apply for college, or even simply confirm your graduation credits when you are under 18. We are asking that youth under 18 have access to the education records so they can navigate their own education success. We are also asking the DCPS ensure that individual schools enforce their current policies that have been created support Youth who are transgender or gender nonconforming. The policy we are advocating be enforced is the one that states that youth has the right to be called by the gender they have self-identified as. This includes keeping two records of students’ education records (one with the gender assigned at birth and one with the gender they self-identify as). We also support more training of staff to ensure youth who are transgender or gender nonconforming are able to have a safe and healthy school experience.

I will now talk about the pandemic and the need for youth center responses to issues. We co-hosted with several organizations two youth centered town halls about the impact of the pandemic on youth. One of the most common themes was the negative impact on youth and their education access. We are concerned about issues within distance learning, in-person learning, sanitation of schools, recreational/gathering activities, and social and emotional support. With distance learning one of our biggest concerns is connectivity issues in Ward 7 and 8. We have heard from many youth who have lost connection to their classrooms, dealt with frozen screens, or inability to connect at all. We have seen youth fall behind due these concerns. Our next biggest issue is around social and emotional support. We know we are all struggling with social distancing. Children and youth are trying to manage learning and loosing the socialization that occurs within schools. Many youth have talked about an increase in anxiety, depression, and fear with social learning. We are seeing youth being frustrated with the process of learning and being punished for that frustration. DCPS needs to increase social emotional support for youth. There needs to be more resources put into community based healers, counselors, and emotional support entities. I have included the full list of our demands at the end of testimony.

Lastly, we support Black Swan Academy’s Police Free School demands. We are asking that instead of funding for the policing of youth we could make investments in social and emotional support. MPD currently receives over $13 million to police and criminalize our youth in schools. Less than half of this budget could ensure 80 schools received additional clinicians. We support the funding or criminalizing youth to be invested in the mental health of young people instead. We believe we should be increasing community based mental health support, increasing counselors within schools, providing training to teachers to increase their skills at social and emotional learning, and providing more psychologists to support schools.

Thank you for allowing me to testify. I welcome any questions you may have.

Full list of COVID-19 demands:

Focus on online learning and access to technology, including:
  • Improve internet services in Ward 7 and 8
  • Increase online tutoring resources
  • Improve communications with students and families during distance learning
  • Provide distance-learning tutorials for students
  • Ensure distance-learning includes activities and lessons off of technology that are interactive
  • Increase online opportunities for co-studying
  • Increase supports for youth with special learning needs or disabilities
  • Incorporate distance learning adjustment times within the school year
  • Ensure all youth have access to computers, printers, and scanners at home.
  • Provide support for parents who must work and cannot stay home with children.
  • Provide high-quality classroom instruction, including:
    • Incorporate hands on learning opportunities and ensure children can interact with one another safely,
    • Ensure students in learning cohorts are on the same learning level
    • Incorporate outside learning opportunities
    • Ensures students who need aides are able to get support and remain safe
    • Limit in-school time to two or three days
    • Create a code of conduct for following safety protocols that all staff must sign and be held accountable to.
  • Require sanitation protocols, including:
    • Ensure that students and staff are able to be tested for COVID-19 regularly and ensure strong contract tracing
    • Provide free masks, gloves and sanitizer to all students, staff, low-income residents and those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19
    • Ensure all schools have an assigned nurse and access to larger healthcare teams.
    • Develop youth-specific hotline to call if they have symptoms of COVID-19
    • Create cleaning stations outside of each room in schools including bathroom
    • Test every school for ventilation safety and take the necessary steps to ensure it works properly before opening schools
    • Ensure that anyone who enters the school building goes through a sanitation process
    • Increase the number of deep cleanings for each school
  • Rethink, but prioritize gathering times, including
    • Develop spaces to create decorative face masks during school
    • Develop a protocol for walking hallways
    • Create virtual interactions between classes and during lunch,
    • Host activities outside
    • Complete virtual assemblies
    • Develop creative ways for students to practice after school activities.
  • Prioritize social emotional support and mental health, including: Incorporate games and virtual hangouts in lesson plans and school activities Create spaces in school for youth to hangout in a safe way to ensure youth are still getting socialization and emotional support from peers
    • Develop a plan to address how to deal with trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic
    • Ensure every school has fully equipped mental health support staff in schools and virtually that meets national standards, including counselors, social workers, behavior techs, therperist and other clinicians
    • Increase mentors within the school
    • Reach out to community-based partners to help with emotional needs of students
    • Develop mental health check-ins and self-care check-ins that can be incorporated into the class daily
    • Develop creative ways to provide safe hugs during crises
    • Remove police presence in schools and do not rely on security personnel or punitive disciplinary measures to enforce safety protocols or
    • Develop student-based safety protocols that do not rely on police or security officers.