October 9, 2020

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Yvonne Slosarski | 443-970-9722 |

The school-based licensed mental health professionals of the Department of Behavioral Health School Mental Health Program stand in solidarity with the DC Nurses Association and Washington Teachers Union’s call to only reopen schools when it is safe.

Like WTU teachers, and DCNA school nurses, we are eager to reopen schools safely because we want to physically provide services in a school setting. We became school-based mental health providers because we know the value of schools as sites for mental health services.

However, as mental health professionals we take an oath to “do no harm.” As social workers, our Code of Ethics calls on us to “exercise careful judgment and take responsible steps…to protect clients from harm.” We know that we cannot reopen schools because the coronavirus pandemic continues to put the health and lives of our students and communities at serious risk.

In a city where racial disparities in healthcare are some of the greatest in the nation, reopening schools puts our students of color at most risk. According to a July 7 American Public Media report, “The fatality rate among the city’s Black residents is 5.9 times higher than for white residents — double the disparity in Chicago, triple New Orleans’ gap and nearly quadruple Detroit’s.” Our Code of Ethics will not allow us to put a plan into place that will harm our students and communities, and reopening schools as coronavirus cases rise does just that.

As members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, we also see every day how members of our union family put the lives of their families at risk to fight this pandemic. Healthcare workers continue to fight this pandemic without additional compensation and continue to experience shortages of personal protective equipment. Similarly, we do not expect for teachers or other school staff to be provided adequate PPE. We simply cannot overwhelm an already-strained healthcare system by reopening schools.

What we can do is provide all the necessary resources to our students in an equitable way to make distance-learning fruitful for all.

Therefore, we urge Mayor Bowser and Chancellor Ferebee to work with WTU, DCNA and 1199SEIU to create a plan in which schools engage only in distance learning until the proper health and safety protections are fully met. Our students’ and our families’ lives depend on making the right decision.