(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
As the city’s seven-day rolling average positive test rate for COVID-19 approaches 3% and with the Mayor and Department of Education seemingly on the brink of closing schools again, public school parents, like me, are anxious and angry. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents have done everything we promised to keep our schools open, safe, and healthy. Shutting down schools that have experienced few or no covid cases makes no sense. Shutting down all in-person schooling is an assault on parents and students.
When the 3% threshold was agreed to by Mayor de Blasio and the teachers union there was great uncertainty about the safety of opening schools. Setting a conservative threshold to respond to reasonable concerns of teachers made sense. However, through small classes, social distancing, mask compliance, and a robust testing and tracing protocol, we proved that schools can open safely under the right circumstances. Even as the citywide positivity rate has increased, the positive test rate in schools has remained far less than 1%.
In my family, I was, and still am, the parent responsible for remote learning. I am the one who essentially left the workforce to give our kids stability at home. I know first-hand that, despite Herculean efforts by our teachers and administrators, remote learning is hurting our children’s academic progress and harming their mental health. It is widening the achievement gap between wealthier, predominantly white, students and poorer students, who are predominantly students of color.
Yet, despite all the challenges of remote learning, many parents decided to start the year fully remote. After so many months of chaos, parents just want to provide continuity for our children. Many parents felt that the best way to do this was to start the year all-remote because the possibility that kids could return to school, only to have them shut down as in the spring, would be devastating and harmful for their children. For many, the plan was to opt back in to some in-person learning after winter break if the opening went smoothly, which it did.
Despite this success, the city is going to throw it all away by adhering to an artificial threshold that flies in the face of science and data. Parents are now again stuck with the fear that they could opt their children into blended learning with some in-person school days, only to have school buildings close shortly thereafter, creating even more disruption and chaos in their lives.
Likewise, students already in the hybrid model are doing well. They are happy to be back in school, with their friends and teachers, returning to some semblance of normalcy. Taking that away from them is unconscionable.
It is time for the city to make decisions by weighing the very substantial harm that remote learning is doing to our children with the risk of keeping schools open. The harm has proven high and the risk has proven low. Schools can and should remain open unless and until there is significant linked transmission within schools. The entire school system should not shudder all buildings to in-person learning unless community spread of covid is so significant that it has overwhelmed the ability to provide the robust testing and tracing required to keep our schools safe.
Our children are suffering and hurting from the lack of in-person instruction and parents are hurting from the mayor and Department of Education’s ad hoc decision making. If we are going to meet our obligation to provide a quality public education for every New York City child, it is far past time to prioritize the health, well-being, and education of our children over all other considerations.
Doug Schneider is a parent who lives in Brooklyn and a candidate for New York City Council in District 39. On Twitter @DougSchneiderBK.