Some Upper West Side parents have been pushing the Department of Education to move more activities outside when schools reopen this fall. The disease has been shown to spread more quickly indoors than outdoors, and outdoor education has been used in past pandemics.
Cara Sclafani and Kari Docter have been heading up the effort in their roles as the chairs of the D3 Green Committee for parent group CEC3, a kind of school board (with less power) for the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem.
Sclafani wrote about their efforts below, and the text of the resolution is here.
On Wednesday night, after another marathon CEC3 meeting, which represents Upper West Side and Central Harlem public schools, a resolution on Outdoor Schools passed which urges the DoE to find outdoor spaces for all public schools in D3, hopefully leading the way for the rest of the city.
The resolution asks that the NYC DoE pursue use of outdoor spaces to execute any and all daily classroom activities with an expectation to identify space for 30% of student enrollment to be outside at any given time and to ensure equitable roll-out by ensuring all students at all schools are given the opportunity for time outdoors on all days for which they are physically in attendance. It also asks that the NYC DOE initiate a feasibility study of school buildings to review outdoor spaces such as playground and/or yard space and roof tops on school grounds, close proximity park or yard space, and potential for street closure space. It also calls upon lawmakers to set aside funds to make outdoor classrooms feasible for all schools in the city and for the NYC DoE to establish plans for less than ideal weather, including use of tents or other canopies, space heaters, extra clothing etc., and to consider contingencies for severe weather which would include standards for schedule changes and closures.
The movement that brought this resolution to be stems from a parent and teacher consortium that focuses on bringing sustainable practices and gardens to our schools, the D3 Green Schools Group. Discussion started in May about the prospect of outdoor schools as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The D3 Green Schools Group has been a long time supporter of school gardens and getting kids outside, but now there was a much more urgent need. Some members were able to join a nation-wide Zoom workshop hosted by Green Schoolyards America. With inspiration from this workshop, the co-chairs, Kari Docter and Cara Sclafani, kicked off an initiative to see if it might actually be possible to implement outdoor classrooms in NYC- after all – with all the cold weather and rain we get, and with the NYC DoE so big, it is very easy to dismiss the idea out of hand.
The first meeting was hosted on June 25th at which all schools in D3 were invited to join in the effort. The action to those who were willing to take it on, was to form small groups of parents & teachers at individual schools to start to seriously consider how it could work at their own school, really focusing on what should be and not the challenges, and of course, to start socializing it and raising it through to whatever networks they have as individuals. National Wildlife Federation of NYC and GrowNYC School Gardens took part in that meeting and have since formed a Task Force of community organizations to develop a practical toolkit for Outdoor Classrooms at NYC schools. Additionally, Ms. Sclafani is part of the Infrastructure working group with Green Schoolyard America’s national effort, in which there is a sub team on urban schools that will be doing a case study on P.S. 185 in Harlem. The D3 Green Schools Group will work to share and replicate this information out to all schools in the district (and beyond) to help bring the broad visions these groups are developing into real terms.
The resolution passed tonight is meant to make it clear to DoE officials that the need for use of outdoor spaces is a viable and safer option that better addresses the social emotional needs of the students and allows for physical movement throughout the day. It is also an important start to the planning for if (or when) the transmission rates increase and the school buildings are forced to close again entirely (if they ever do open this fall).
If you’d like to participate in this initiative send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the distribution list.