ANC urges D.C. officials to reinstate recently fired School Without Walls principal

Media Credit: Danielle Towers | Photographer

Commissioners heard from University leaders Wednesday about off-campus gathering complaints and passed legislation urging D.C. officials to put the School Without Walls principal back in office.

A local governing body pressured D.C. Public Schools officials to reinstate School Without Walls principal Richard Trogisch during a monthly meeting Wednesday night.

The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously passed a resolution demanding Trogisch be reinstated following city officials’ decision to fire him after he refused to reopen school if classroom conditions were unsafe for school personnel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. His firing sparked public protests from local politicians and community members who say the city’s decision was an effort to silence opposition to D.C.’s school reopening plan.

Commissioners voted for their resolution to be considered as a vote of no confidence in D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and other D.C. officials involved in Trogisch’s firing.

Here are the meeting’s highlights:

Reinstating the School Without Walls principal
Commissioners are asking Ferebee to explain his decision to fire Trogisch and to allow the school’s five associate and assistant principals to select the interim principal.

In addition to opposing school reopenings, Trogisch questioned city officials about the the air quality standards DCPS officials plan to regulate during the pandemic, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its finding that the coronavirus can be transmitted as an airborne disease, the resolution states. The resolution states DCPS failed to provide Trogisch with a “specific answer,” prompting his statement against reopening which many believe ultimately led to his firing.

The resolution also requests that city officials inform the ANC of its air quality standards and update school community members with information about “the metrics for reopening and safety measures,” citing D.C.’s high rates of asthma and respiratory illness experienced by children in Wards 5, 7 and 8.

Commissioners also voted to request that the D.C. Council conduct hearings on “remediation efforts” at every D.C. school facility.

“School Without Walls High School is the closest public school in America to the White House, and the transparently cruel methods of silencing and terminating a whistleblower do not represent to our nation the values of the citizens of the District of Columbia, nor the concern that we have for our children and educators that our schools be reopened safely,” the resolution states.

Senior and the ANC’s chair James Harnett said commissioners invited Ferebee and Paul Kihn, the District’s deputy mayor of education, to join the monthly meeting, but the two declined, which Harnett said was “an abdication of their leadership.”

“We saw DCPS really take highly inappropriate action to silence an administrator who questioned the methodology of the DCPS central office and frankly is nothing more than an attempt, at least in my opinion, to silence the voice of a critical member of our community,” Harnett said.

Off-campus student complaints
University officials who attended the meeting presented local community members with GW’s COVID-19 policies and testing procedures.

Christy Anthony, the director of GW’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, said administrators have received 26 complaints from Foggy Bottom residents about students violating University policy, like social distancing guidelines.

She said more than 120 students or student organizations living off campus have received warning letters, which remind students of COVID-19 restrictions that enforce mask wearing and limit gatherings to 10 people or less. Of those 120, Anthony said 34 students or student organizations have received “more elevated” conduct outcomes, some of which have included “removal sanctions”

Several neighbors voiced concerns with GW’s ability to control off-campus students, as officials have tied student gatherings in the neighborhood to an uptick in COVID-19 cases on campus – a possibility locals have feared since the start of the semester. Neighbors requested officials to start requiring all students living off campus in the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods to receive the same weekly tests that on-campus students must receive, but Lynn Goldman, the dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, said officials have not yet found a way to enforce the measure.

Construction update
Commissioners also unanimously passed a resolution to create several additions to the moveDC 2021 plan, which outlines the city’s plan for the construction of new mass transit lanes, like bus lanes and freight corridors.

The ANC voted to include two-way protected bike lanes on 21st Street NW from at least G Street NW to Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 17th Street NW from K Street NW to Constitution Avenue NW and 15th Street NW from Pennsylvania Avenue NW to Maine Avenue SW. Commissioners also voted to reiterate a resolution passed last March, which called for dedicated bus lanes on 18th and 19th streets between K Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW.

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