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FY2020 Budget Oversight Questions and Responses

Councilmember Grosso, as chairperson of the Committee on Education, has received responses to his pre-hearing budget oversight questions from D.C. Public Schools, the Public Charter School Board, D.C. Public Library, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, the Deputy Mayor for Education, the State Board of Education, The Office of the Student Advocate, and the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education.

You can find the Committee's questions and agencies responses here.

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Grosso urges quick implementation of protected bike lanes on 6th and 9th Streets NW

Councilmember David Grosso sent a letter last week to Director of the D.C. Department of Transportation expressing his disappointment at the lack of progress of protected bike lanes on 6th Street and 9th Street NW between Florida and Pennsylvania Avenues, NW.

Changes in the area, including the reopening of MLK Library and removal of bike and bus lanes, necessitate a speedy implementation of both these protect bike lanes to improve mobility and safety for cyclists on corridors that touch Wards 1, 2, and 6.

You can read the full letter below and here.

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FY2018 Performance Oversight Questions and Responses

Councilmember Grosso, as chairperson of the Committee on Education, has received responses to his pre-hearing performance oversight questions from D.C. Public Schools, the Public Charter School Board, D.C. Public Library, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, the Deputy Mayor for Education, the State Board of Education, The Office of the Student Advocate, and the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education.

You can find the Committee's questions and agencies responses here.

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Chairperson Grosso sends follow up questions to education agencies after roundtable on improving school attendance,

Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, today sent letters to the acting D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee, the Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, and Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants Director Michelle Garcia with follow-up questions related to the joint Committee on Education/Committee of the Whole roundtable on Improving School Attendance held on January 31.

  • Read the letter sent to Acting Chancellor Lewis Ferebee here. Responses are due Feb. 22, 2019

  • Read the letter sent to Deputy Mayor Paul Kihn here. Responses are due March 1, 2019

  • Read the letter sent to Director Garcia here. Responses are due Feb. 22, 2019.

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Grosso leads Council comments opposed to Trump Administration's proposed Title IX changes

Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, sent a letter signed by every member of the Council of the District of Columbia, to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposing the Trump Administration’s proposed changes to Title IX enforcement for failing to properly address the realities of sexual harassment and assault in schools.

“As local elected officials, including the chairperson of the D.C. Council Committee on Education, we support a robust oversight role by the Department and we look to the Department to set the bar for ourselves and other jurisdictions in protecting our students,” the Councilmembers wrote. “The proposed rules would restrict our ability to build upon the floor that federal laws and rules should allow, thereby undermining your goal of providing greater control over these decisions to local communities.”

Last year, Grosso introduced and the Council unanimously passed the School Safety Act, which requires all schools to have policies in place to prevent and properly respond to sexual abuse by adults against children and sexual harassment and assault among students, including dating violence. The act also increases the requirements of what efforts D.C. Public Schools and charter schools must make to uncover past sexual misconduct of any potential employees who will have direct contact with students.

Councilmembers expressed their concerns that changes to Title IX could undermine this work, including its ability to address off-campus incidents which have on-campus effects.

“We heard consistently from schools, students and parents, and experts about the need for schools to be able to respond to incidents of abuse or harassment that happen outside of school hours or off-campus,” Councilmembers wrote, referencing testimony they heard in considering the school safety legislation. “This could include online harassment or an abuse near school that significantly disrupts students’ ability to learn. The proposed rules would contradict this by requiring schools to dismiss a complaint if the alleged conduct “did not occur within the [school’s] program or activity.”

The Council also raised concerns over language that forces schools to ignore harassment until it becomes incredibly severe, raise the bar on what is considered “deliberate indifference” to complaints of misconduct, and allow parochial schools greater freedom in claiming religious exemptions from fulfilling their Title IX responsibilities.

“Taken together, these proposed rules represent a serious misstep in the ongoing effort to address safety and stop discrimination in education. We ask that you withdraw the proposed rulemaking and reconsider the best way to ensure safety for students,” the Councilmembers concluded.

You can read the full letter below and here.

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DISB responds to Councilmember Grosso on delayed public bank study

On January 16 the Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking (DISB) sent a response to Councilmember Grosso’s Jan. 9 letter inquiring about the status of a study to determine the feasibility of establishing a public bank in the District of Columbia and requesting an explanation for the delay in its delivery.

In the letter, Director Stephen Taylor informed Councilmember Grosso that the feasibility study was delayed due to additional requested work and that the draft report is currently under review. The final step will be final review from the Executive Office of the Mayor, but Director Taylor was unable to provide a date certain for public release of the study.

The councilmember secured the funding for the feasibility study in the FY2018 budget.

“I have long advocated for a public bank because I believe its establishment would enable the city to serve as a participation lender, partnering instead of competing against local banks, to drive lending to small businesses and others that have been historically denied access to credit,” Grosso wrote.

Read the letters below.

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Dept. of Corrections response leaves unanswered questions on employees in medical marijuana programs

In November, Councilmember Grosso sent a letter to the Department of Corrections to inquire about the Department’s policy and practices for drug and alcohol testing of employees. Specifically, the councilmember was interested in whether or not DOC was taking into account employees’ enrollment in medical marijuana programs as part of such testing.

“If an employee, for example, is undergoing treatment for cancer and is prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor to help with the side effects of treatment, it seems unreasonable and inappropriate that the employee would be penalized, or even subject to termination, because of seeking such medical care,” Grosso wrote.

After a delayed response, Director Quincy Booth laid out DOC’s practices and procedures and its adherence to District law. However, the response sidestepped a question specifically aimed at how DOC takes into account an employees enrollment in the medical marijuana program, instead focusing on how DOC complies, as other D.C. agencies do, with the impact of Initiative 71.

Initiative 71 dealt with recreational, not medical, marijuana.

The D.C. Department of Human Resources specifically sets out an exception for medical marijuana in District Personnel Manual Instruction No. 4-34, similar to exceptions for other prescription drugs

Councilmember Grosso will follow up with the Department of Corrections and the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety to ensure District government employees in the medical marijuana program are treated equally to those who require other prescription drugs for medical purposes.

Read Councilmember Grosso’s letter and DOC’s responses below.

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Councilmember Grosso requests update on delayed public bank feasibility study

Councilmember Grosso sent a letter to the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) today inquiring about the status of a study to determine the feasibility of establishing a public bank in the District of Columbia and requesting an explanation for the delay in its delivery.

“I have long advocated for a public bank because I believe its establishment would enable the city to serve as a participation lender, partnering instead of competing against local banks, to drive lending to small businesses and others that have been historically denied access to credit,” Grosso wrote.

The councilmember secured the funding for the feasibility study in the FY2018 budget.

“As we are now four months into Fiscal Year 2019, I am deeply disappointed that neither I nor the public has seen the study.”

Grosso requested an update on the study and a specific date for finalization from DISB Commissioner Stephen Taylor by Wednesday, January 16.

Read the letter below.

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Grosso sends Education agencies pre-hearing FY18 performance oversight questions

Councilmember Grosso, as chairperson of the Committee on Education, today sent to the agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction the pre-hearing questions for the annual performance oversight process, covering fiscal year 2018. find the questions posed to each agency at the links below:

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Councilmember Grosso requests information from City Administrator on D.C. government's acceptance of cash

Last month, Councilmember Grosso sent a letter to City Administrator Rashad Young requesting a full accounting of which D.C. government agencies accept money from the public, for what services, and, of those, which cannot be paid in cash.

Federal data indicates that 1 in 3 D.C. residents are underbanked, while 1 in 10 are unbanked. Additionally, many residents prefer to use cash to better manage their budgets and protect their identities.

Last year, Councilmember Grosso also introduced legislation to stop the trend toward cashless-only payments at local food establishments over concerns about equitable access for residents who are unbanked or underbanked.

Councilmember Grosso also has been monitoring the impact of the pilot program being undertaken on the 79 express bus route.  This pilot will ban the use of cash payment or SmarTrip reloading and Grosso fears that the change could worsen commute options for riders with disabilities or lower income residents.

Councilmember Grosso expects a response from City Administrator Young by January 18, 2019. You can read his letter below:

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Councilmember Grosso urges Congresswoman Norton to oppose backdoor RFK deal

Citing the racist name and lack of transparency and community engagement, Councilmember Grosso today sent a letter to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton urging her to oppose efforts by Mayor Bowser, Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder, Republicans in the House of Representatives, and the Trump Administration to slip a provision into the must-pass end of year federal spending package that would pave the way for a return of the football team to RFK, as first reported by the Washington Post.

“The current effort is the latest ploy by the team and congressional Republicans to avoid public scrutiny,” wrote Grosso. “This process lacks transparency and there has been no engagement with District of Columbia residents or tribal leaders to afford them an opportunity to voice their concerns. The prospect that the District of Columbia would once again welcome a team whose name promotes prejudice and reinforces harmful ethnic stereotyping runs counter to the ideals of equality, diversity and inclusion for all that we have long embodied.”

In his time on the Council, Grosso has repeatedly called for the team to change their name–a racial slur against American Indians–most recently joining indigenous peoples and activists to deliver petitions to the football team. Last year, Grosso joined bipartisan lawmakers from Maryland and Virginia to introduce an interstate compact to prohibit all three jurisdiction from offering public incentives or financing for the construction or maintenance of facilities for the football team.

“As a vote on the appropriations bill could be imminent, there is an urgent need to do whatever is necessary to ensure that this backdoor attempt fails. I stand with the National Congress of American Indians, Advancement Project, NAACP, National Urban League, Race Forward, and other organizations working actively to oppose this effort and I urge you to do all you can to thwart this closed door process,” Grosso concluded.

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Councilmembers Grosso and Nadeau seek clarity on services for transgender youth in CFSA's care

On Oct. 4, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, and Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, chairperson of the Committee on Human Services, sent a letter to the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) seeking clarification of its policies regarding the provision of medical services to transgender youth in the agency’s care.

“The governor of California recently signed legislation in that state…setting the appropriate care for youth in foster care to receive gender-affirming health care, including mental health care. Media outlets praised the state as being the first to ensure these rights for transgender youth,” the two councilmembers wrote. “However, it is our belief that this should have already been policy in the District of Columbia based on the provisions of our Human Rights Act and its interpretation, particularly with regards to the Mayor’s Order from February 27, 2014 prohibiting discrimination in health insurance based on gender identity or expression.”

CFSA Director Brenda Donald responded to Grosso and Nadeau on Oct. 19, reaffirming its commitment to provide youth in its care with all appropriate medical and mental health services, including related to maters of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“In the District of Columbia, youth in the care of CFSA have a right to be provided with timely, adequate, and appropriate medical and mental health services from health care professionals, which includes medical care, behavioral health care, and counseling,” Donald wrote.

“CFSA’s practice is to support and ensure that transgender youth obtain and have access to gender-affirming healthcare, gender affirming mental healthcare, and any other support and services they might need. Should a youth express an interest in undergoing gender reassignment surgery with their social worker, health care professional, or foster parent, CFSA would treat such request as we would any medical request. The agency will refer the youth to the appropriate medical and mental health services, establish what is medically covered, and determine the best way forward to ensure that all medical needs are met. If a youth requests reassignment surgery, CFSA must ensure that the youth receives the appropriate mental health support. The Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF) will cover sex reassignment procedures for beneficiaries with an established diagnosis of gender dysphoria.”

Read the full letter to CFSA, and their response to Councilmembers Grosso and Nadeau, below.

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Grosso expresses concerns over Providence Hospital closure

On September 26, 2018, Councilmember David Grosso sent a letter to the Department of Health about his concerns regarding the planned closure of Providence Hospital’s acute care services and to better understand DOH’s role during the transition.

“Ascension’s decision to close acute-care services at Providence Hospital is devastating as three-quarters of patients accessing care at Providence are D.C. residents primarily coming from Wards 5, 7, and 8,” wrote Grosso. “This loss of much needed medical care on the east side of the city greatly limits access and may exacerbate already troubling health outcomes for our residents in these communities.”

On October 3, the Department of Health respond with a letter outlining their role. Both can be found below.

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Grosso questions Bowser administration on implementation of changes to Kids Ride Free program

Today, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, sent a letter to Director of the District Department of Transporation Jeff Marootian, interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith, and City Administrator Rashad Young after constituents reported that hundreds students have not yet received new Kids Ride Free (KRF) SmarTrip cards which provide free access to Metrorail, Metrobus, and D.C. Circulator.

“Recently, I learned that 775 students at D.C. International School need KRF cards, but have not yet received them, and this problem extends to other schools as well. This is unacceptable. The KRF program was created four years ago to ensure our school system is more equitable for students and families in the District of Columbia. Without access to public transportation, I am concerned that many students will not be able to go to school.”

UPDATE: City Administrator Rashad Young responded to Councilmember Grosso on September 25. The letter can be found below.

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A student's voice

A student's voice

By: Tallya Rhodes*

Coming to Washington, D.C., I did not expect the school system to be as frustrating as it is. The school system I came from was different than DCPS. People had personal MacBook Air computers that we borrowed from the school throughout the year. Middle schoolers had iPads that they borrowed. There were apparel classes, cooking classes, and child development classes. There was even a class where you did construction work, being able to make small projects using real tools. In DCPS, I had none of that. I only had the basic core classes and electives, no interesting classes that the students would have loved. I am not saying that my old school system was better, just that it was really different and it took a lot of time to get used to the change. The one thing I still had not adjusted to was not being able to talk about my experiences and be heard.

One of my teachers would take me to different meetings across the city where people talked about issues in our schools and our community. Usually, I was the only student and was told multiple times that the politicians loved hearing students’ voices. I always found that hard to believe because politicians usually didn’t look like they were even listening to adults. If they wouldn’t listen to the adults, it was even more likely that I wouldn’t be heard or understood. Yet I kept trying anyway.

This summer I had the privilege of facilitating At-large Councilmember David Grosso’s education town halls in each ward with five other students. We were able to talk about the issues we’ve experienced while engaging in conversations with people from the community who wanted to talk about issues and solutions. It was great to be able to talk about what I went through being in D.C. Public Schools and talk about some solutions that I thought could help with fixing that issue.

For me, I was also able to see the different issues that each ward sees as important. No two wards were similar. In Ward 7, our conversation was mainly on the violence that we see in the city and how that hinders students from getting to school either on time or at all. That was a very serious conversation that showed how unsafe students felt when getting to and from school. Community members wanted to know what could be done to help the students feel safe when traveling to and from school but none of the students present could really give a concrete answer. “If the police doesn’t even help us, how can you make us feel safe?” Ceon Dubose, rising junior at Idea Public Charter School, said in our Ward 7 town hall. It was suggested that community members help get students and bring them to school and have more social workers in the schools who actually care about their students.

“As a person who’s experienced switching from school to school and being pushed out, it’s important for someone in the school building to support you and lead the way,” Jessica Parks, rising junior at Friendship Collegiate High School, said in one of our town halls. People wonder why the school to prison pipeline is so great. “In order to get kids to come to in school more, I think schools need better or more counselors. Schools need better disciplinary policies. School is supposed to feel safe, we are supposed to feel secure, and some kind of comfort. We should want to come to school instead of skipping, or dropping out because we feel unsafe or pushed out.” Ceon said, having been pushed out of school many times. “I just want to love school again.”

Yet, in Ward 2 the main concerns were about having a high school in that ward to ensure a community where the students who go to the elementary and middle schools there have a high school that they can attend. These parents didn’t want their students to leave their Ward to go to a high school, instead wanting them to stay in Ward 2. But, you usually see students in Wards 7 and 8 who would rather leave their Ward to go to a better school than the one in their neighborhood.

While listening to the comments about building a community in a Ward and making sure that community was intact because it was essential for students and the community to flourish, I started to think about the reason why I went to H.D. Woodson and not my neighborhood school. I also started to think about what was essential for my success towards graduation - numbers. I realized that it wasn’t the community that was essential, at least in the political world. It’s the numbers. If a school is not a good number, then the students aren’t perceived as smart or ‘adequate’ enough to get the opportunities and resources as those in these other ‘communities.’ Once our education stops being based on numbers, then maybe we can look towards a better system. Numbers aren’t everything. If anything, it should show how great the needs are. I was a great student in terms of numbers, but that doesn’t define me as a person. My school may have a bad number, and students who go there may have bad numbers, but that doesn’t define them. It takes more than numbers to define something or someone. 

I actually now understand why it’s so hard to please every ward and every school in the city because we are extremely different. We’re a city but with very different needs. From my vantage point, most of the resources and energy go to the wards with the most money and better schools, which leaves the rest of us without the resources or funding for the students. I may understand why it’s so hard to please every ward in the city, but I still don’t understand why schools in certain parts of the city get better resources than those with the greatest need considering the many issues us students have explained and experienced. That still remains one of the biggest issues students have to face, and it’s our job to continue to show the divided line the city has drawn.

Despite Thurgood Marshall being a public charter school, schools like TMA, H.D. Woodson, Ballou, etc. have little to no resources yet other schools are able to receive multiple Dual Enrollment courses. Trinity Brown, rising senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy, wanted to get her associate degree during high school. But, she wasn’t able to do that because of funding being low at her school, resulting in her not being able to take Dual Enrollment classes. If Trinity went to another school on the other side of town, she could have been able to have an associate degree before she graduates. But, she should be able to do that at the school she has chosen.

Politicians have a hard job but that’s no excuse for ignoring the issues that students face everyday. Having these student-led town halls was a great way to get the issues out there and get people to actually listen to student’s issues for once, especially since politician’s decisions affect us the most. In this way, we were actually listened to, not just heard. You can hear someone but you can only really understand what that person is saying if you actually listen to them. The experience working on the town halls made me feel like I was being listened to for once. 

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso. Tallya Rhodes was the valedictorian of H.D. Woodson's Class of 2018 and Mikva Challenge Fellow in Councilmember Grosso's office in summer 2018.*
 

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Grosso requests DCPL's 3D printer policy to ensure public safety

Earlier this month, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, sent a letter to D.C. Public Library Exectuive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan to request the policies and procedures in place to ensure that 3D printers associated with their Fabrication Lab, or Fab Lab, are not used to produce weapons or other harmful items.

"Our public libraries play a central role in the District of Columbia’s vibrancy. They educate, entertain, and foster community discourse," wrote Grosso. "We have a responsibility to safeguard these community centers from being used for a purpose that runs counter to our library’s mission or that adds to the persistent problem of violence across the city."

DCPL responded on August 13 with their full 3D printer policy, which explicitly prohibits patrons from producing items that can cause harm. In addition, library staff is involved in the production of materials and reserves the right to deny the production of any item in violation of the policy. Finally, the 3D printers available at the Fab Lab make it difficult to produce an operable firearm, which require a more advanced printer that uses a more durable form of plastic.

Councilmember Grosso appreciates DCPL for responding in a timely manner and for their forethought and thoroughness in addressing this issue.

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Grosso inquires about access to home and hospital instruction services for students

On July 11, 2018, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education and member of the Committee on Health, sent a letter to interim D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Amanda Alexander expressing concern that some children may not be receiving Home and Hospital Instruction Program (HIPP) services which are aimed at supporting students with physical disability and/or health impairment who are confined to home or hospital for three or more weeks.

"...there seems to be a lack of information and transparency about the process for determining a child's eligibility for HIPP and for appealing that decision," he wrote.

UPDATE: Grosso provided a list of questions to DCPS and received a response on August 3rd from DCPS which can be found here and below, along with the HHIP program manual and original letter from Councilmember Grosso.

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DCPS responses to Grosso's follow up inquiries on graduation accountability

On July 25th, 2018, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, received a response from DCPS to a letter he sent to D.C. Public Schools Interim Chancellor Dr. Amanda Alexander with several questions following up on questions asked at the June 13, 2018, public oversight roundtable on graduation accountability. The purpose of the roundtable was to get an update from OSSE, DCPS, and PCSB on the implementation of Alvarez and Marsal’s recommendations on improving graduation accountability.  The response is below, along with the original letter Councilmember Grosso sent to DCPS.

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Councilmember Grosso expresses concerns to WMATA over cashless payment pilot for 79 express bus route

Earlier this month, Councilmember David Grosso sent a letter to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Chairman Jack Evans lauding WMATA for its attempt to speed up service but expressing his concerns over the impact of the pilot program being undertaken on the 79 express bus route.  This pilot will ban the use of cash payment or SmarTrip reloading and Grosso fears that the change could worsen commute options for riders with disabilities or lower income residents.

"It is very important that we continue efforts to make our buses more efficient and faster, and I have no doubt that this proposed pilot for the 79 bus will show that this reduces overall trip times," Grosso wrote. "However, a speedier bus should not be a result of leaving some of our residents behind."

In the letter, Grosso made several suggestions to provide equitable service to all residents along the route.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld responded to Councilmember Grosso with a letter dated June 21, 2018. Wiedefeld confirmed that nearly 10 percent of riders of the express route either paid their fare via cash or reloaded their SmarTrip onboard but did not elaborate on any plans to accommodate those riders beyond already existing options during the pilot.

Councilmember Grosso awaits the result of the pilot program and will continue to monitor its potential expansion to other routes to ensure that WMATA buses remain an option for all residents.

Both letters can be found below.

On June 25, Councilmember Grosso also introduced legislation to stop the trend toward cashless-only payments at local food establishments over concerns about equitable access for residents who are unbanked or underbanked.

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Grosso sends second letter to mayor laying out expectations for education leader search

On Thursday, June 14, Councilmember Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, sent a second letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser asking her to provide a proposed timeline and plan for the selection of a permanent Deputy Mayor for Education and Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools for Council review, as required by law.

Over two months ago, the councilmember asked the mayor to provide a timeline for a robust public engagement process that would put leaders in place as the city navigates a tumultuous time for public education. The mayor never responded.

"The District of Columbia currently has a vacuum of executive leadership on public education, and you have done nothing to fix that," Grosso wrote.

Since the mayor has failed to lay out her plan, Councilmember Grosso laid out his expectations for the search going forward.

  • The mayor should go above and beyond the minimum legal requirements for the selection of the Chancellor by engaging in listening sessions with teachers, students, parents, and community members about the characteristics they want to see in our new education leaders.
  • Create an advisory committee of individuals that can work with the mayor to identify and announce the nominations. The Washington Teachers' Union should have the opportunity to put forward suggestions of teachers to participate in that committee for the chancellor.
  • Leaders should be committed to re-establishing public trust and closing the achievement gap.

The Committee on Education, under Grosso's leadership, intends to hold multiple hearings and, if appropriate, move the nominations through the legislative process during the Council review period to build the record and facilitate extensive public input. 

Unfortunately, the councilmember believes that D.C. Public Schools will begin a new school year without a permanent chancellor.

"While I believe it was a mistake to delay the chancellor selection processes, I hope that we can work together in making continued improvements to public education in D.C. for the benefit of our residents."

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