Council Requires COVID School Health Data Disclosure, Extends Foreclosure Ban

In a comparatively brief Legislative Meeting, it was clear that as we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic here in the District, the response to COVID still dominates the Council’s legislative agenda.

Earlier this month, following the holiday break, a universal “test to return” program at DC Public Schools was an important step towards increased school health and safety, and a similar such effort is planned after a late February break. Less clear, however, was how best to inform and reassure parents of the health status of schools between these intensive “test-to-return” efforts. The Council’s emergency legislation passed at its most recent meeting sought to increase the amount of information available to parents during the long stretches between these intense bouts of universal COVID testing.

The unanimously-passed measure would require that public or charter schools notify parents when there is a positive COVID case in their child’s classroom, via their preferred communications method, within 24 hours or the next business day. Second, DCPS would be required to disclose to the Council which schools have not yet been provided the one-per-school COVID Strategy and Logistics Coordinator, and full-time substitute teacher, that have long been promised to them. Finally, DCPS would have to disclose to the Council the percentage of asymptomatic students tested, per school and per week. After DCPS initially proposed 10 percent of asymptomatic students be tested months earlier, the Council insisted on a higher 20 percent threshold. By now requiring the disclosure of weekly numbers for each school, parents and the Council will have certainty that this critical metric is being met in every school on an ongoing basis.

Passed on an emergency basis, the measure will take effect upon the mayor’s signature. The bill would remain in effect for 90 days after that date while longer-term legislation works its way through the legislative process.

Also passed at the most recent meeting was an extension of the existing COVID-era foreclosure ban. Council legislation dating from the earliest days of the pandemic banned the specter of housing finance worst-case scenarios—eviction in the case of rental properties, and foreclosure in the case of home ownership. On the federal level, Congressional legislation funded massive financial relief programs meant to head off these two housing endgames. However, while the federal eviction relief fund has already made payments to the states, the states have disbursed these funds, and some states (including the District) will receive a second round of such funds to disburse, the federal foreclosure avoidance funds have yet to be provided to the states, let alone disbursed out to individual homeowners in need.

Because of these circumstances, the Council’s emergency legislation is designed to delay the end of the local foreclosure ban until the federal foreclosure funds flow to the District and out to homeowners in need. Therefore, the bill extends the foreclosure ban until June 30, 2022 for all residents, and until September 30, 2022 for those homeowners who applied for assistance via the forthcoming local foreclosure relief fund, and who at that time are still awaiting final action on their applications.

In other action at its most recent meeting, the Council also extended legislation that would have otherwise expired, including bills to provide 48 hours of COVID vaccination leave and extended bereavement leave to DC government employees, allowing Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to continue meeting virtually, and allowing consumers to file a written statement with their credit agency indicating that they suffered financial hardship due to COVID. An amendment to another bill briefly extended the time available to tenants of rental buildings to initiate the purchase of their building under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.

The Council’s next scheduled Legislative Meeting will be held on February 1.