Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday that the New York City public schools will be closed starting on Monday, and will be closed until at least Monday, April 20.
de Blasio acknowledged, however, that it could be hard to reopen on April 20.
“This is a decision I have taken with no joy whatsoever,” he said. There are 329 cases of coronavirus in New York City, the mayor said at the press conference.
Online learning exercises will start on March 23, a week from Monday. The city will also be trying to figure out how to get technology and Internet for kids who don’t have it. Teachers are expected to come in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to learn ways of doing remote learning, said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
For the next five days, kids can go to schools to get grab and go meals. The city will be coming up with a plan to get meals to kids on a longer-term basis.
Teachers and other politicians had been pushing over the past few days for the mayor to close the schools. Laurie Posner, a teacher at PS 87, wrote the letter below:
As a New York City public school teacher, I was disappointed, surprised, and frustrated by the decision announced yesterday by Mayor de Blasio that schools will remain open. I find this to be disrespectful and dangerous.
Elected officials and health experts continue to emphasize the importance of avoiding crowds. We are told repeatedly to stay off crowded subway cars and not to congregate in large groups, but New York City public school students and staff must ignore this advice. We watch as Broadway theaters close, museums close, sports organizations suspend or postpone their seasons, but the city’s public schools remain open. Why is it important for people to avoid subways and crowds except if they attend or work in a New York City public school? Why is it important to work from home unless you attend or work in a New York City public school? We hear that by staying home we can save a life, and yet students and staff must continue to travel to their schools. It is inexcusable that public school students and staff are not provided the same level of protection as others during a global pandemic.
It might be complimentary to hear the Mayor refer to public schools as one of the “three pillars” of the city, but I do not believe that my colleagues and I should be considered “pillars” during a public health crisis. Nor do I believe that schools should be “a line of defense.” When talking about the city’s school system, Mayor de Blasio said that families “depend on it, need it, don’t have an option” and if school is not open, we need some “very substantial fallbacks.” Well, let’s get those fallbacks in place.
Although school staff are entrusted with the care of other people’s children, education is not synonymous with childcare. My colleagues and I do not provide a baby-sitting service. We do our best to educate children and we take that responsibility very seriously. At the elementary school where I work, we are well aware that working with pre-K through 5th grade students and their families includes a host of additional responsibilities. We spend a great deal of time comforting children as they deal with everything from bumps and bruises to divorce, death, and other traumatizing events. We stayed with kids when their parents could not pick them up on September 11th and we sat with masked students infected with H1N1. We protect children during school evacuations and lockdowns. We strive to ensure that all their needs are met.
It is true that in addition to educating children, schools provide a variety of other services including meals, medical services, and laundry. We recognize that there are ramifications when schools are closed, but how is it possible that we are so poorly prepared to provide services in the event of school closings? Aren’t there ways to ensure that students receive meals and other necessary assistance? Can’t school close while school buildings remain open? Similar to during the summer, sites can remain open throughout the city, so students and their families have access to meals and other services. Educational and/or recreational activities can exist, so families without childcare options have a safe place for their kids to go. After Hurricane Sandy, teachers were asked to report to sites near where they lived if they were unable to travel to their regular workplace. School staff could be utilized in ways that allow children to be safe and fed, so parents and guardians can still get to work, and more effective “social distancing” can happen for everyone.
Children and their families must continue to have access to the many services provided within school buildings regardless of circumstances – blizzards, hurricanes, terrorist attacks – but NYC public school students and staff members should be provided the same protections as other members of the community when these circumstances arise. This is certainly the case when confronted with a public health crisis.
The CDC’s document “Considerations for School Closure” mentions ways in which school closures may negatively affect some of the services addressed above. The document also mentions that older students may congregate in “other students’ homes” and “shopping malls.” However, students will most likely congregate in groups far smaller than their class size, and many may congregate in parks and other outdoor spaces, which allow for the fresh air and “social distancing” comparable to what will exist if the Mayor’s suggestion that gym classes be held outdoors is implemented. More importantly, the CDC’s document states that school closure “provides more protection for older staff and students and staff with underlying medical conditions.” Shouldn’t the protection of students and staff be the primary focus and obligation during this time?
Fortunately, COVID-19 does not seem to be affecting children, but it is highly probable that among the 1.1 million students some have mild symptoms and others are asymptomatic. Encouraging students to continue to travel to and from school seems incredibly irresponsible. The same is true of school employees. How do I know that I am not unknowingly infecting others as I travel to and from school each day? What about the teachers and students with underlying conditions? What about elderly family members or family members who have underlying conditions? The CDC report mentions that almost 40% of U.S. grandparents provide childcare for their children. Those same grandparents are currently spending time with their grandchildren at the end of every school day. How do we know that students are not going home and infecting their grandparent caregivers?
I certainly hope that COVID-19 abates soon and that individuals, businesses, and our world as a whole is able to recover quickly. However, regardless of what happens, I find the decision that students and staff continue to report to their schools during a global pandemic to be insulting, infuriating, and just plain wrong.
We can and should do better than this.