A family in Washington, D.C., was reported to child services by the city’s public school system for “educational neglect” after they chose to keep their unvaccinated children home from school over COVID-19 safety concerns.
Kavitha Kasargod-Staub and her husband said they decided to keep their children home at the beginning of the school year over fears that the D.C. Public School system’s (DCPS) coronavirus safety policy was insufficient, according to a report published Monday in The Intercept.
“The policies were vague, everyone was scrambling, so we decided to keep [our kids] home for the first week of school in the hopes that [D.C. Public Schools] would realize they made a mistake and catch up with things like testing and outdoor eating,” she told the news outlet.
Kasargod-Staub, who previously served as the parent-teacher association president for the school, cited issues that included a broken heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and no plan for outdoor eating. Her children, who are in second and fifth grade, are too young to be vaccinated against the virus, NBC Washington reported.
Kasargod-Staub said that she called the school’s principal to discuss the issues, but that no changes were made after the first week. As a result, she told the Intercept that she provided her children with learning supplements and continued to keep them home from school while deciding whether or not to formally pull them out. Remote learning through DCPS was not an option, as the city requires doctor certification to prove that such supplemental education is necessary.
In the meantime, however, DCPS told Kasargod-Staub that her family would be referred to the city’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) due to the unexcused absences.
“I have a lot of privilege, I know the system, and it was still terrifying,” she told the Intercept. “My mind immediately goes to, ‘Where will this lead? Are they going to take away my kids?”
Kasargod-Staub said the questions she was asked by child protective services were often unrelated to COVID-19, and included information on her monthly income, the children’s father, and mental health. At one point, a social worker even asked her to prove that her children had places to sleep and food to eat.
“We don’t have undocumented status, we don’t have incarceration, we’re not unsheltered,” she said. “If we’re enduring this, I cannot even imagine how terrifying it is for many of our less fortunate neighbors who also have COVID concerns right now.”
According to NBC Washington, Kasargod-Staub was not the only family to be referred to CFSA for keeping their kids home from school. Other D.C. parents told the news outlet that the same situation has happened to them, and that there should be more flexibility in determining when to involve protective services.
“You do everything that you can do as a parent to keep your child safe,” Kasargod-Staub told the outlet. “Then to be told that because you are doing that, you are harming your child, that’s what the District thinks you’re doing? I mean, it’s hard to find words.”
A spokesperson for DCPS confirmed to Newsweek Monday that the school system is required by the state to report to CSFA after a number of unexcused absences, regardless of the situation.
While the school declined to comment specifically on Kasargod-Staub’s case, public policy states that students 5 years of age with 10 or more unexcused absences must be referred to CFSA for educational neglect. The COVID-19 pandemic does not provide an exception to that rule, the CFSA says on its website.
“D.C. Public Schools is committed to providing a strong educational opportunity for all students. Regular attendance has a significant impact on a student’s academic success, starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school. We recognize the real concerns of some our families about returning to the classroom. We will continue to engage with families on their concerns and share information on the health and safety protocols in place within our schools,” a spokesperson for DCPS told Newsweek.
Since the beginning of the school year, at least 90 families in D.C. with COVID-19 safety concerns have been referred to child protective services for “educational neglect,” the Intercept reported. As of Monday, Kasargod-Staub’s case is still pending.
Newsweek contacted the city’s Child and Family Services Agency for additional comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.