DCPS apologizes for calling SW residents “petty” and “power-hungry bullies”

By Mike Goodman

On Thursday, Dec. 15, officials from DC Public Schools (DCPS) and the DC Department of General Services (DGS) briefed the Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) of Amidon-Bowen Elementary School (ABES) regarding an upcoming, major construction project at the school. An LSAT exists for every DCPS school, and is a committee of parents, teachers, school staff, and a community member who volunteer their time to help the school, and are elected by the school community.

During the virtual meeting, parents and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Marjorie Lightman (6D01) pressed the city officials about a lack of outreach to the community, the anticipated amount of noise due to the construction, the impact on students and teachers, whether there is ongoing communication with parents and school officials, and the safety of the students around construction vehicles. Midway through the virtual meeting, a city official inadvertently shared his computer screen, showing the private chat that the DGS and DCPS officials were having with each other during the meeting.

In response to a parent’s questions about how to ensure construction trucks have visibility to schoolchildren entering and exiting the school, and what actions are being taken to minimize interactions between children and construction trucks, a DCPS official privately chatted to the other city officials, “This is getting petty. None of us are transportation consultants. This is just petty. Lessons learned. Andy Litsky (ANC 6D) and David Margolis (LSAT) are power-hungry bullies looking for fights.”

In addition, The Southwester obtained a video of the private chat, which also shows a DGS official chatting to other city officials, “wow, that guy was rude,” as one parent asked about child safety in a construction zone. When it was apparent that the chat was viewable for all meeting participants, the DGS official promptly deleted the comment.

After parent advocates and The Southwester broke the news about the LSAT meeting and city officials’ chat messages, DCPS began working to rectify the situation. “The Deputy Chancellor sent me an apology for the team’s actions and I talked to her on the phone to follow up. I am hopeful that the relationship will be more productive going forward,” says Margolis, who is a parent, member of the LSAT, and was the target of insults by DCPS officials.

In addition, a DCPS spokesperson told The Southwester, “DC Public Schools is disappointed to learn that a staff member referred to parents and community members in this offensive manner. To Commissioner Litsky, Mr. Margolis, and the entire Amidon-Bowen Elementary School community, DCPS values your engagement, and we sincerely apologize for the unacceptable commentary that took place during the recent Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) meeting. As we work in earnest over the next few days to ensure that the school is informed of the Child Development Center project’s timeline and has all questions answered, we will also work to ensure respectful dialogue, both internally and externally.”

The construction project itself has not been without controversy, primarily due to what residents perceive as a lack of transparency and a number of unanswered questions. The community initially welcomed the news that a Child Development Center would be added to the school, to accommodate infants and toddlers ages 0 to 3, as a part of DCPS’ “from birth-to-three initiative.” However, both the ANC and parent groups have been concerned with a lack of information about the impact of the construction on students and teachers. After some delays, the project was slated to begin on Monday, Dec. 19, while children are in school. Major construction is expected to continue well into next year, including during critical periods of student testing.

“I was happy to hear that Amidon was going to get additional space and new early childhood classrooms,” says Margolis. “However, the DCPS / DGS team provided the ABES LSAT team with confusing and contradictory information, then radically sped up their reported construction timeline. We went from thinking they would break ground in September 2023 to hearing in November that the work would begin in December. With Thanksgiving, that gave us very little time to get the word to parents, and administrators and staff were left scrambling to adjust safety plans around arrival, dismissal, and recess. We had a lot of questions to ask about noise, health, and other impacts and the team wasn’t answering us fast enough. We thought it was very unfair to the hardworking staff at ABES in particular.”

Commissioner Litsky also told The Southwester that a senior DCPS official reached out to him with an apology, but that was not his primary concern. “What I cannot abide is that our District Government is still going ahead with this project without complete written answers to some very basic questions from the ANC, Amidon-Bowen LSAT and the Amidon parents.  Rather than the focus on an apology to me, there should be a mea culpa to the Amidon-Bowen parents and the people of Southwest for the bumbling and unprofessional manner that this entire project has been handled so far,” says Litsky. “Just because the District Government is the “developer” here they ought not to be any less responsive to the Community. Were it up to me, this project would be paused until such time as those answers are forthcoming and in writing.” 

In fact, following the LSAT meeting and outreach from The Southwester and concerned parents and leaders, a DCPS spokesperson now tells The Southwester that the project will be paused. “DCPS will pause the upcoming work related to preparing the site for construction while we review and respond to the community’s concerns,” said a DCPS spokesperson on Dec. 17.

The path forward is now unclear, though parent advocates want to make sure the construction project does not end up impacting children this school year as well as next school year. “Honestly, I don’t want construction to be delayed so that two school years are impacted instead of one, so I’m glad that this coordination is finally happening. I do wish they had been more open, honest, and proactive through the process,” says Margolis.

Still, some community leaders and parent advocates believe that more needs to be done by DCPS and DGS to explain why there were so many communication breakdowns, and work to ensure that the behavior of city officials is improved in the future. “I strongly urge Mayor Bowser to direct her agencies – DCPS, DGS and DDOT, each of which has specific responsibilities under this project – to meet immediately with the Amidon-Bowen LSAT and incoming ANC-6D01 Commissioner Gail Fast and, thereafter, on a monthly basis until this project is completed,” says Litsky.

Other participants in the LSAT meeting were similarly frustrated with city officials. “As public servants entrusted to serve the DC community, the public servants directly involved with this project not only miserably communicated about the project, but this miscommunication resulted in violating the public’s trust. Violations of the public trust is what results in the erosion of our democratic institutions,” says Kirk Sander, an ABES parent who was in the LSAT meeting, and was the target of insults by DGS.

The Southwester also reached out to DGS. DGS was unable to provide a response at this time. This article will be updated accordingly.

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