Marja Plater Testifies on DC School Safety Conditions

Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs Statement Regarding the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Facilities and Family Services Hearing on the Work Order Integrity Amendment Act of 2023 and School Readiness

WASHINGTON — In response to a hearing on the “Work Order Integrity Amendment Act of 2023” and school readiness, Marja Plater, Senior Counsel and John E. Nolan Youth Justice Counsel, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, issued the following statement:

“The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs commends Chairwoman Lewis-George and the Committee on Facilities and Family Services for their commitment to improving school facilities by introducing the Work Order Integrity Amendment Act and holding a public hearing to discuss school readiness at the start of the 2023-2024 school year. The Work Order Integrity Amendment Act, which requires District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) staff to verify that the Department of General Services (DGS) completed repairs in their system before a work order request is closed, will undoubtedly improve the system for work orders, but the Council must do more to address systemic maintenance problems in DCPS buildings.

“For too long, the District has failed to maintain schools that are clean, healthy and safe places to learn. Most repair orders are in Wards 4, 5, 7, and 8 where many schools have high populations of students of color and less affluent students. The US Department of Education asserts that unequal access to safe and appropriate school facilities violates children’s civil rights.

“Students of color are more likely to experience crumbling school infrastructure, lengthy delays in any repairs, which, if actually completed, are often shoddy. The poor condition of school buildings correlates with poor educational outcomes, but improving school conditions can directly enhance student performance, according to studies.

“During the beginning of the school year, air conditioners are often broken, leaving students too hot. In cold weather season, boilers and radiators malfunction, leaving classrooms with no heat. The extreme temperature may trigger asthma attacks, nosebleeds or generally make it difficult to focus on schoolwork. Students desire a safe and comfortable learning environment to be at their best academically, and at a minimum, that requires, in their own words, “schools that are clean and fixed.”

“DC students’ right to an education depends on the health and safety of school environments.  The DC Council should require DGS to develop a preventative maintenance protocol that incorporates a school readiness checklist, an assessment of all schools, and a process for fixing priority repairs prior to re-opening of schools every year.”

Read the full testimony here.

Watch Marja Plater’s testimony here.

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