The city has a very low coronavirus infection rate now after being a pandemic hot spot in the spring, and de Blasio and others argue schools should open for students who want to attend.
On Monday, the mayor announced 55 positive coronavirus tests among New York City school employees who have been on campuses getting ready for the opening. That amounts to a 0.3 percent positivity rate among nearly 17,000 personnel tested, de Blasio said.
In this post, nearly 50 faculty members at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, a public school serving grades 6-12 in Queens, came together to write about the problems they see with the hybrid plan. They call it “logistical madness.”
Candice Abreu, Aisha Ali, Jennifer Avellino, Sadhya Bailey, Katie Blouse, Cheryl Bolton, Hannah Brenman, Melissa Bright, Stacy Brown, Robin Baumgarten, Milreyly Cas, Denise Del Gaudio, Rachel Demalderis, Shoshi Doza, Sandra Drozd, Rachel Ellis, Arthur James Gary, Kathleen Glatthaar, Meghan Gosselin, Ilana Gutman, William Hendrick, Thomas Hurth, Gus Jacobson, Dawoun Jyung, Rebecca Kleinbart, Lauren Kosasa, Tejal Kothari, Keiri Lagos, Joe Masco, Allison Maxfield, Aaron Morales, Andreina Nunez, Evan O’Connell, Margaret O’Connor, Seyi Okuneye, Lucy Robins, Jonathan Rosado, Elyse Rosenberg, Kimberly Scher, Laura Shah, Eric Shieh, Michael Stern, Kimron Thomas, Kristen Tomanocy, Brooke Winter-DiGirolamo, Claire Wolff and Jenna-Lyn Zaino
Teachers in New York City recently reported to school buildings to begin planning for an incomprehensible hybrid schooling model where some students attend school in person some of the days, some attend in person none of the days, and many — but not all — faculty attend all of the days to teach them, whether or not the students are physically present.
If that sounds confusing, know this: It’s worse on the ground when you’re actually trying to make everything work with the severely limited funding and staffing that public schools face — not to mention work in ways that reflect a deep interest in the safety, welfare and education of our youth.
And yet this is an experiment that school districts across the country are currently attempting, even with fresh memories of sicknesses and deaths among students, families and colleagues.
A few weeks ago, many teachers across America read with frustration a popular piece in the Atlantic in which writer Kristen McConnell demanded that teachers “do their jobs” and open school buildings. In the piece, she compares us to hospital workers, demanding that we, too, “rise to the occasion.”
Honestly, we admit to wondering, what did she think teachers were doing when we reinvented our profession last March — moving instruction online, on a dime, for millions of children? And as hybrid learning unfolds in New York City this week, we’re wondering: What do people think our job is, exactly?
Consider what it means to open school buildings in the midst of a pandemic. Begin, perhaps, with the recognition that a school is not, and should never be, like a hospital. Hospitals are hyper-sterile environments, with personal protective equipment built into their design, and protocols and routines for dealing with sick people. Every syringe is plastic-wrapped and then discarded; the sheets are changed for every patient. It does not matter if you can’t see the surgeon’s face: What matters is that she is an expert practitioner. Hospitals aren’t places that we long to be; rather, they are institutions where success is measured by how soon one gets to leave.
There’s nothing sterile about schools. From pencils to paintbrushes to lab goggles, every surface is touched hundreds of times each day, by hundreds of different hands. We often don’t have soap in the bathrooms, much less hand sanitizer in classrooms, and we certainly don’t have protocols for keeping children six feet apart at all times.
Children may easily spend 13 years in two or three schools and come to see them as places to belong. School is a place for lifelong relationships with others, students and teachers and families. Here is a question that isn’t trivial to any teacher: What does it mean when students and teachers, wearing masks, can’t see one another smile?
We are being asked to essentially make our schools sterile. Is it surprising to anyone that teachers, principals, custodians and so many parents are asking themselves how and to what end?
We teach at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, a public school serving grades 6-12 in Queens, N.Y., which has seen more than 6,000 people die of covid-19 in the past six months — second in the nation only to Los Angeles County. In March, when buildings closed, we doubled down on the things that make our school home to so many young people: a living curriculum rooted in the experiences of our students and society, a strong tendency toward collaboration in our classrooms and teacher community, and “Crew” — an advisory program in which a small group of students meets daily with a teacher together to form a family unit.
While it wasn’t perfect — and of course we couldn’t physically be with them — we were able to be emotionally present with our students via Zoom. We learned, like people all around the world, that we could still find ways to send energy and encouragement and support — that we could still find ways to laugh together on screen.
As we plan for in-person instruction in the midst of a pandemic, what is striking is how little students will be coming back to. With our staff stretched thinly and students split into small pods meeting on different days of the week and in different modes of learning, we are finding it nearly impossible to schedule Crew, even once or twice a week. Indeed, we question whether our school — which was still so recognizable in the spring, even on Zoom — will bear any resemblance in the hybrid setting to the school as our students and families have known it until now.
Pre-pandemic, students at our school were accustomed to working together to solve problems, analyze texts, share perspectives. They were used to meeting as an entire grade of more than 100 each week, in an auditorium and later on Zoom, to share announcements and appreciations, to work through issues in their communities. Students are not used to working on their own, spaced far from their peers, facing in a single direction, and separated into a group of nine (as recommended by the New York City Department of Education) for their entire day.
Over the course of this past spring, both students and teachers became more confident holding synchronous and asynchronous exchanges using a variety of formats. Our classes featured breakout rooms for small-group work, online forums for discussion, student partners and pods for homework support. We learned how to address socio-emotional learning needs virtually by focusing on how students engage with one another, make decisions that matter for themselves and their communities, and practice responsible decision-making. We learned to differentiate materials for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) by providing audio books, recorded lessons, lookup functions for challenging vocabulary and 1-to-1 video instruction.
The same cannot be said for hybrid instruction.
To give but one example: We are particularly concerned about our students who have IEPs and how they will receive special education services in a hybrid model. There are currently no provisions for having two teachers in mandated co-taught settings, and it would be nearly impossible for most schools in New York City to meet this requirement under the stresses of fragmenting our staff to serve all groups of students. Tellingly, the city’s 109-page reopening plan includes only one and a half pages about special education, reducing the ethical mandate for equitable educational access to a declaration that schools provide services “to the extent feasible.”
While it may seem counterintuitive, we believe the proposed hybrid structure will lead to students feeling more isolated, less engaged and less supported. We believe it is far from what we can provide in a remote learning setting, where the full resources of our school and staff are dedicated to a single model. Simply put: Hybrid learning is too great of a health risk, to say nothing of logistical madness, for such little gain.
We are baffled that the hybrid model continues to be put forward, repeatedly, as the goal for our children’s education when our city might better invest its energy and resources in developing the long-needed policies to address inequities around child care, mental health and technological access.
We do not believe the city’s decision to open schools in a hybrid fashion has been made with any serious thought given to what we believe our jobs are as teachers: the safety, care and education of our children.