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DC Council emergency bill calls for expanded virtual learning, better transparency on school conditions

The DC Council plans to vote on emergency legislation Tuesday. It calls for more students with certain medical conditions to qualify for virtual learning.

WASHINGTON — The D.C. Council plans to vote on emergency legislation, that would expand virtual learning to more students if approved. It would also broaden the definition of excused absences for students during the pandemic. 

The legislation was drafted by several council members. Chairman Phil Mendelson shared a draft of the bill Thursday. That bill would open virtual learning to students with certain medical conditions, or those who live with an immunocompromised parent. 

Another part of the bill addresses transparency about school conditions. 

During a marathon nine-hour meeting this week, parents and teachers testified about conditions in schools they call 'deplorable' and 'dangerous.'

"One classroom was provided spot coolers and as of yesterday, that room still reads 84 degrees. These conditions would be unacceptable during normal times, but with an airborne pathogen, the lack of ventilation compromised the safety of students and teachers alike," said Alexandra Simbana, a DCPS parent. 

RELATED: DC parents push for safety upgrades, virtual learning options for students as hospitals see more child COVID cases

Recently, $24 million in federal pandemic relief money was used to improve ventilation and HVAC systems in the schools. That has a lot of parents and leaders asking why there are still so many issues. 

"Despite the millions of dollars in federal aid that DCPS has spent to get ready for this school year, multiple schools struggle to operate safely," Regina Bell, President of the Washington Teacher's Union, told councilmembers. 

RELATED: 'The mission is to create a safe environment for kids' | HEPA filters and UVC lights used to reopen DC Public Schools safely

The council questioned DCPS and the Department of General Services for hours during that same oversight hearing. Leaders told the council a major issue was the delay in getting parts necessary for those repairs. 

Chairman Phil Mendelson told the Director of DGS that the issues in the schools are a systemic problem. If approved, this bill would hold DGS more accountable. The agency would be required to post all open work orders and their estimated completion date on its website for the public to see every two weeks. 

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh told parents that it was unacceptable their students have been put in dangerous situations in these schools. 

The D.C. Council plans to vote on this legislation Tuesday. It needs broad support, with a total of nine votes needed to pass. WUSA9 reached out to the Mayor's office for comment on the bill but has not yet heard back. 

See the full emergency legislation here.

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