The public school system in the District of Columbia is sicking child protection workers on parents who keep their children home because of concerns surrounding the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
In September, local parents spoke to NBC affiliate News4 about being referred to the DC Child and Family Services Agency (DCFSA) for “educational neglect.” DC Public Schools does not allow children to attend school virtually unless they can convince a doctor to sign off on the necessity.
Alex Simbana told the outlet she was afraid of being referred to social services because she kept her 9-year-old daughter home from school after mainstream media fanned the flames of fear over the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Simbana’s anxiety was exacerbated because she endured a stint in the hospital after contracting COVID last year after the birth of twins, leaving her with lingering health problems.
According to the article, the child said she did not want to return to school until youth vaccination became available due to fears of putting her mother and siblings at risk.
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News4 says, “D.C. Public Schools has warned parents the public health emergency did not alter a District law requiring them to report students between the ages of 5 and 13 who incur 10 or more unexcused absences in a school year to CFSA. That policy is intended to protect kids and limit truancy.”
“Other parents” were paraphrased by News4 as also complaining of quarantines outside of official policy being considered unexcused absences, “Some vaccinated students have incurred unexcused absences for quarantining without being directed to do so by the school or a doctor. That includes instances when a sibling or other family member has tested positive.”
Simbana said she received a letter from DCPS stating her daughter was “in danger of being withdrawn” and now feared the wrath of the DCFSA.
“We will likely bend and send her back by that Oct. 1st deadline…If something were to happen to my child… it will be a decision I regret every single day. And it will be a decision and a consequence that I will lay entirely on the people who forced her back into that building,” she told the outlet.
A thinly veiled vaccine-acceptance-for-children article published by the The Intercept on Oct. 25 chronicled the case of Kavitha Kasargod-Staub’s referral to the DCFSA. The outlet says the parents decided to keep their child home after finding out before the year started that the HVAC system at the school was broken and there was no mandate for outdoor lunches.
Kasargod-Staub served as the President of the PTA the year prior and tried to engage the Principal to make the changes she desired, “The policies were vague, everyone was scrambling, so we decided to keep [our kids] home for the first week of school in the hopes that [D.C. Public Schools] would realize they made a mistake and catch up with things like testing and outdoor eating,” she said.
Instead of bowing to pressure, the school referred the family to the DCFSA in accordance with the unexcused absences policy.
“It feels a little dumb now, but I genuinely thought things would change and they’d figure safety stuff out,” said Kasargod-Staub.
The result of the referral was that the family was subjected to an intake call and an in-person visit by a government official at their home. According to Kasargod-Staub, the contents of the investigation appeared arbitrary, “The social worker asked about our monthly income, about the paternity of my own children, are there any mental health diagnoses for the parents.”
The article states, “A few weeks later, Kasargod-Staub was asked to show a social worker where her children sleep and documented proof that there was food in her kitchen.”
State investigations into COVID-related absences are not an isolated case, according to The Intercept, “At least 90 families with Covid-19 safety concerns have been referred to child protective services for ‘educational neglect,’ which the Department of Health and Human Services defines as a parent or guardian’s failure to provide a child with appropriate schooling.”
“In one warning letter sent to another D.C. parent and reviewed by The Intercept, the school district threatened referral not only to the Child and Family Services Agency but also to the city’s juvenile probation agency.”
DCPS failed to respond to questions posed by News4 in their article, and the DCFSA likewise failed to reply to The Intercept’s request for comment.
A July article published by DCist showed other families in the DC Public Schools’ area facing difficulties obtaining the medical exemptions required for virtual learning. One mother, Makita Bryant, said she didn’t want to return her 10-year-old son to school because he suffers from asthma, which gives him a greater risk of severe illness if he develops COVID.
“When Bryant went to her son’s pediatrician to get the form signed, she said the pediatrician did not feel comfortable certifying that the boy requires virtual learning,” stated the article.
“The physician crossed out ‘requires’ and wrote instead the boy would ‘benefit’ from distance learning because his asthma makes him ‘high risk for severe disease’ if he becomes sick with COVID-19, according to a copy of the form Bryant shared.”
DCPS rejected the request based on the doctor’s change of wording, “If you would like to submit another form that is not altered by the doctor and clearly states that virtual learning is required for your student, we would be happy to review the updated form,” said an email from administrators.