New York City is poised to be the only one of the country’s 10 largest school districts to open schools for the start of the 2020-21 school year. That became possible when the state — once the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic — dramatically lowered its covid-19 infection rate with strict public health measures. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) announced last week that school districts could choose to reopen as long as their positivity rate was under 5 percent.
De Blasio has repeatedly said he wants to reopen schools because children learn better in person and because schools offer safe havens to many students whose home lives are unstable and food-insecure. His administration last week sent a plan to the state Education Department for approval, calling for a hybrid model in which students who want to be in school will go a few times a week and learn from home on the other days.
On Monday, de Blasio said a survey taken several weeks ago of parents showed that three-quarters of them wanted their children back in school. He said the same result came about in a second survey, which asked families if they wanted to go remote and which was supposed to be filled out by Aug. 7.
“The facts now, based on the actual opportunity for parents to make a decision, came back almost exactly the same as our survey, striking consistency. And now we know 74 percent of our students planning to participate in in-person learning, blended learning, starting next month.”
But in the latest results, 700,000 families did not directly tell the city they wanted their children back in school.
Miranda Barbot, spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education, said in an email that 395,000 families filled out the newest survey. That included 264,000 families that selected remote learning and another “131,000 responses indicating blended learning, too,” she said.
“Only families specifically choosing remote are required to fill it out,” she wrote about the new survey. “Families were only asked to fill it out for blended IF they were switching preference from remote back to blended.”
She said that this was not “an indicator of anything because the survey was not a requirement for blended.”
If you are confused, you aren’t alone. Public education advocate Leonie Haimson summed up what she called the mayor’s “spin” by saying, in a post on the NYC Public School Parents blog: “Understandably, many parents are confused and ambivalent.”
Again, de Blasio said 700,000 students want to return to school, though 700,000 did not fill out the latest survey saying so. He apparently assumed that people who did not fill it out all want the hybrid model.
But parent activists say many families have not yet decided what model to follow and those who have could easily switch. Many parents, activists say, are waiting to see the actual reopening plans for their children’s schools, which are supposed to be finalized by principals by Aug. 14, in consultation with school leadership teams.
It (obviously) makes it hard for schools to effectively plan for reopening if they don’t really know how many students to expect to stay home or come back to school.
Teachers, administrators, school nurses, union leaders and others say schools simply don’t have the resources and/or space to implement the required safety measures that are called for.
Jamaal Bowman, a Brooklyn middle school principal who recently won a major upset over a veteran U.S. congressman in the Democratic primary, said that schools simply don’t have the resources to pay for the safety measures that must be taken to open safely.
“You can’t plan for a safe reopening when you can’t pay for a safe reopening,” he wrote in an email. “If we don’t have the full resources of the federal government, I would not feel comfortable opening schools.
“That means the money to hire more teachers to lower class sizes, to use alternative spaces for learning where classes can be more spread out, to increase experiential and outdoor learning opportunities, to provide all of our kids and teachers with masks and gloves, and to make sure the classrooms are properly cleaned and ventilated,” he wrote.
The New York Daily News published on Aug. 9 its own analysis of 2019 school inspection reports and reported that out of more than 1,500 buildings, 650 had at least one deficiency in exhaust fans, which are key parts to ventilation systems. It also said that more than 700 buildings have no “supply fans” that are used primarily to bring in outside air to large spaces such as gymnasiums. And 442 school buildings had no central air conditioning system, it said.
The New York State Nurses Association said in a statement on Monday that while New York City has a very low rate of covid-19 cases, it is unsafe to reopen schools now.
“As nurses — working for months at the epicenter of the pandemic — we’ve seen firsthand how deadly this virus can be,” the statement says. “And we do not want to see our children, other families, our teachers, and all those who work in our schools put in harm’s way….
“Bringing people together in enclosed spaces, without the robust public health infrastructure nurses have called for since the beginning of this pandemic, will undoubtedly increase the spread of the virus. Opening in-person schooling could easily erase the progress New York has made, and spark a resurgence of COVID-19.”