D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is crystal clear in her message: On the first day of school, Aug. 30, she wants every student learning in person.
But some parents who have children with medical conditions are concerned about their children going back to class. They say doctors won’t sign the required form to have their student’s case considered for virtual learning because of one word, and they feel they are being set up to fail.
Markita Bryant didn’t share her son’s medical condition with D.C. council members, but she testified that the language in the form is preventing her son from being considered for virtual learning.
“I have been playing wordplay with DCPS, the Bowser administration and OSSE via email to protect my child,” she said during a Committee of the Whole meeting last week.
The form the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) requires a doctor to sign asks the physician to certify that the child’s condition “REQUIRES” the student to participate in distance learning. Bryant testified that after spending $90 in copays over five weeks, she cannot find a doctor comfortable with the word, and noted they would prefer the word “recommends.”
A pediatrician from Maryland, Dr. Nadia Hashimi, read the form and shared her opinion at WTOP’s request.
“The language of the D.C. Medical Certification form calls on physicians to certify that the child has a physical or medical condition which REQUIRES the student to participate in distance learning. That’s strict language that plenty of pediatricians are going to struggle signing off on. This is not the time to bring tension into the relationship between families and the doctors caring for them,” Hashimi wrote.
Bryant was one of a handful of parents who testified at the meeting about D.C. Schools, OSSE and the preparations heading into a new school year in a pandemic.
Parent Patricia Stamper testified that her son, who has asthma, has an action plan on file with his school that was filled out by his doctor, but it is not sufficient to be considered for exemption from in-person learning.
“Now I have until July 30 to get his doctor to fill out a form that she doesn’t know how to fill out. She doesn’t understand why he needs to fill [it] out because there’s already an asthma action plan on file for him with D.C. Public schools via OSSE,” Stamper testified.
“They refuse to meet in the middle with parents, and they refuse to communicate with doctors in reference to this language,” Bryant told Ward 4 Council member Janeese Lewis George about OSSE and DCPS. “I come to you for help.”
Bryant said her son’s condition is high risk and that he could develop a serious illness if he comes in contact with someone who has COVID-19.
“If he comes in contact with COVID, he will develop a serious illness. The back and forth I went through with DCPS — they did not care about the condition, the risk factor, and the severity of the issue. They kept playing on the wordplay,” Bryant said.
In response to WTOP’s questions regarding parents’ frustrations, OSSE stood by the language in its form, which is available online.
While noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of conditions that may put someone at a higher risk in contracting COVID-19, “[n]either the CDC nor District government has defined a list of health conditions for which distance learning is required; such a determination must be made based on a clinician’s best professional judgment,” OSSE responded.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the first day of school.