Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/202 Tue, 07 Jul 2020 04:06:22 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) How We Must Reinvent New York City Education After Coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9532-how-reinvent-new-york-city-education-after-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9532-how-reinvent-new-york-city-education-after-coronavirus edu reg high

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. My youngest, now 13, needs help setting up for the Zoom meeting I wrangled with his math teacher so they can address how his dyscalculia is making fractions difficult. My middle child has just roused, a mark of my hard-earned success in resetting her circadian rhythm disrupted by these strange times. My eldest wants to discuss whether she should take “no-grade” on one of her courses during her second semester in college—the transition to remote learning at home has been too rocky for her to maintain focus on each course.

My home is a microcosm for how COVID-19 has turned education upside down. This disruption hits even harder for single-parent homes, families with students who have learning disorders or disabilities, and multi-generational families like mine. Like tens of thousands of other parents, I’m focused on how we can make things better for us and our kids.

I know these things from a professional perspective, too. For over a decade I have fought for equitable school funding, increased capacity for quality child care, for better access to dyslexia diagnostic services and support especially in low-income communities, and against the emphasis on testing in public education. 

We need a systematic reimagining of public education, and what better time than now. But that phrase has been bandied about a lot recently by some people with pretty different ideas than mine. I’m never going to go along with billionaires “redesigning” public schools—that experiment over the past 20 years did more harm than good. When I say reimagine, here’s what I mean.

We need to focus our school communities on healing from the traumas of COVID-19 and racism. Schools in working-class neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color were already at a disadvantage before the crisis in terms of funding and access to resources. These neighborhoods also have been some of the hardest hit by the virus.

This is a pivotal moment in our history. If we believe Black lives matter, how do we turn that philosophy into reality for today’s students? Now is the time to rethink our approach to school culture—get rid of the metal detectors, train school communities in restorative justice, and institute a comprehensive social-emotional learning curriculum developed with high-trauma populations in mind.

Much of this work starts before children even enter a classroom. Our interventions must start with universal child care—including subsidies for families, increased capacity for infant and toddler care, and pay parity for child-care providers and early childhood teachers. The cost of child care for more than one child can rival the cost of paying rent. This is especially crippling for single mothers. When it comes to 3K, pre-K, and kindergarten, we should listen to the experts who highlight the importance of play-centered education.  

Throughout our children’s education, we also must commit to curricular best practices that move us away from high-stakes testing. The state tests were canceled for COVID-19 this year, as were the Regents Exams, and no student will be the worse for it.

We need to adopt holistic evaluation methods like portfolio reviews that meet the needs and measure the growth of all students where they are. These changes are especially important for multilingual learners and students with learning disorders or disabilities, whom high-stakes testing harms the most.

Such curricular best practices include culturally-responsive education that builds on students’ experiences in the world. Likewise, the power of movement must be recognized in providing physical education as already mandated by the state but too often not provided. Expression through the arts cannot be just a luxury afforded to the wealthiest schools, not when we know how transformative and healing these practices can be for our kids.

Spending less time on testing will make it possible to offer courses our students will need for life outside high school like civics and financial literacy. It will also help us shift the focus to emphasize the interpersonal skills that will prepare our students to thrive in careers of social work, health care, education, and other low-carbon work we will need more of as we face the defining challenge we are passing on to the next generations, the climate crisis.

We will also need to reduce class sizes. The kind of attention our students need coming out of this crisis necessitates a lower student-to-teacher ratio. The current average class size of 24 for K–3 classrooms and almost 27 for grades 4–8 are far too high, and unconscionable in the wake of COVID-19. For our students to re-engage with learning when they go back to school buildings, we need to have smaller class sizes. Teachers are the primary support for our students, and they must be given the time to focus on the individual growth areas of each student.

As those of us working from home have seen in our own remote work, technology can indeed be a powerful tool for connection. But the flip side is privacy, especially when it comes to our children. As privatizing forces move in post-coronavirus to “reimagine” education through technological solutions, we need to draw hard and fast lines to protect the privacy of each member of our school communities. Data privacy can’t be an afterthought; it has to be baked in at the outset. It’s another reason to keep billionaires and giant tech companies out of our schools.

All of these policy ideas already exist in well-researched, ready-to-execute forms. What we have lacked is the political will to make them happen at scale.

Now is our chance. In this upcoming New York City budget, due in just a few days, we have to reject austerity. We must surgically defund the NYPD budget not just to preserve but to grow our spending on these crucial policy initiatives like smaller class sizes and retooling school culture. At the same time, we need to consolidate administrative sprawl within the Department of Education so our response to the traumas of COVID-19 can be swift and more effective for our students.

The City Council has an opportunity to step up to the plate for our children, and with 41 of them term-limited out at the end of 2021, it’s their chance to leave an impressive legacy of support for our students when they need it the most.

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Johanna Garcia is a chief of staff in the New York State Senate, a former president of Community Education Council District 6, and a candidate for City Council in Manhattan’s 10th District. On Twitter @JohannaG_NYC.

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How We Must Reinvent New York City Education After Coronavirus Thu, 25 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Where the 2021 Mayoral Candidates Stand on Removing School Safety from the NYPD's Domain https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9503-where-2021-mayoral-candidates-stand-on-removing-school-safety-from-nypd https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9503-where-2021-mayoral-candidates-stand-on-removing-school-safety-from-nypd NYPD in schools

Police in schools (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


As the City Council is pushing to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget for next fiscal year, City Council Members Mark Treyger and Donovan Richards have proposed revoking the police’s role in school safety and restoring it to the Department of Education. The proposal has been a top priority for some police reform and education activists for years and has taken on renewed urgency in the wake of the countrywide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio may be hesitant to support it, several candidates running for mayor in 2021 say it’s high time that the city remove police officers from schools.

Treyger, who chairs the education committee, and Richards, who chairs the public safety committee, are not among those mayoral candidates, though Richards is currently running for Queens Borough President in a primary this month. The Council members released their proposal on Monday, decrying “zero tolerance” discipline policies that have created a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately harms black and brown students and those receiving special education services. While most schools in the city don’t have “zero tolerance” policies, the presence of police officers in schools has led to many more arrests of students than would otherwise occur, reform advocates point out.

Though the Council has over the years sought to make changes to the NYPD’s role in schools, it has only so much power over the police department or education department. The Council has passed reporting bills requiring greater disclosure but the police department has always been reluctant to abide by those measures. The Treyger-Richards proposal constitutes a much broader move, removing the Division of School Safety from the NYPD’s purview and returning it to the Department of Education, where it was originally headquartered before being relocated by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1998.

“Enough is enough. Incremental reforms to a system that does not want to be reformed are futile. We need nothing short of structural change,” Treyger and Richards said in a joint statement.

They pointed out that the city spends more money on school safety agents than it does on counselors, social workers, and psychologists all together. But those roughly 5,000 school safety agents are not accountable to school principals. 

“At a time when students are experiencing more trauma than ever, we need to make sure that our approach to school safety is aligned to meet the holistic needs of children. School Safety Agents, most of whom are doing their best to keep kids safe within a broken system, are too-often called upon to intervene in behavioral crises because the vestiges of Zero Tolerance prioritize punitive interventions over social emotional supports,” Treyger and Richards wrote.

“A seven-year-old having a bad day in a school without a social worker is not an NYPD issue,” they added.

The call for removing police from schools has been championed by groups like Dignity in Schools, which coordinates efforts by several local groups to advocate against the school-to-prison pipeline.

The NYPD’s budget allocates as much as $331 million to school safety, which would make up a significant chunk of the $1 billion that the Council wants to cut from the police department’s funding. The Council is also looking at reducing the overall headcount of the NYPD, cutting overtime costs and shifting other duties away from the department, among other measures.

Mayor de Blasio has pushed back against both removing school safety from the NYPD and cuts of that scope to the police department budget, though he did recently announce he is ready to move some NYPD funding to reinvest it in youth and social services. He has not offered a dollar amount, but said it would be part of negotiations with the Council as the two sides must craft a new city budget by July 1.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, among the most prominent likely candidates in the 2021 mayoral race, is backing the contents of the Treyger-Richards letter.

“I’ve said repeatedly that we need to reimagine policing in New York City, and this is one way to do that,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, when asked about the letter from two of his members. “I’ve also said I will listen to communities most impacted by over policing, and this is one of their big concerns. I want to thank Council Members Treyger and Richards for their advocacy, and I look forward to working with them to convince the de Blasio administration that this is both urgent and necessary. We need big changes, and we need them now.”

[Read: ‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget]

Johnson is among the top contenders seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2021, along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Comptroller Scott Stringer. Other candidates include Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive in the Bronx; Loree Sutton, former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services; and Shaun Donovan, a former aide to President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Though Adams and Stringer are not as intimately involved in the budget process as Johnson, both have also been vocal about the need for police reform, and Stringer released his own plan for shifting NYPD funds about eight days before Johnson and other Council leaders called for the $1 billion NYPD cut in the coming fiscal year.

On June 4, Stringer proposed a $1.1 billion cut to the NYPD over four years, largely through a headcount reduction by attrition, and cuts to overtime and ancillary expenses. On the issue of the NYPD handling school safety, Stringer called for ‘rethinking’ the paradigm, but did not make his position fully clear.

“As we reimagine policing in our city, we must rethink the role of NYPD in our schools,” he said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “For too long, our city has over-invested in punitive policing - while systemically disinvesting in programs and services that can actually address the poverty, trauma and structural racism that impact Black and Brown communities and complicate the trajectories of children of color. It is not enough to shift the budgetary line item from one agency to another. Real school safety goes hand in hand with transformative investments in the social-emotional health of schools - including in social workers, school psychologists and other mental health professionals, guidance counselors, restorative justice coordinators, and regular training for all school staff to support a school climate that is welcoming and safe for all students.”

Borough President Adams, a former NYPD officer and captain, did not return a request for comment for this article and his position on the role of the NYPD in school safety.

In an op-ed on Monday in the Daily News, Morales called on the city to reprioritize how financial resources are distributed. “The next step in addressing the problem of policing should pursue a harm reduction approach that removes police from schools and disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline that criminalizes student’s behaviors and puts them into contact with law enforcement,” she wrote. “Those resources should instead be directed toward educational supports, mental health services and other needs that must be addressed in order for students to succeed in schools.”

Donovon, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, also said the city needs to end the school-to-prison pipeline and reevaluate whether certain roles of the police could be given to other agencies that are more suited to handle them “without the use of force and without overly punitive repercussions.”

“School safety is just one such area,” he said, applauding Treyger and Richards’ proposal. “An investment is urgently needed in intervention programs that are educationally oriented. We know that the consequences rendered by police enforcement are disproportionate relative to the severity of the infractions of young students, and disproportionately applied to Black students and students of color.”

Sutton was the outlier among the mayoral candidates who have made their positions at least somewhat clear, expressing wariness of the proposal to remove school safety from the NYPD’s domain.

“This proposal strikes me as a superficial hasty move which risks further polarization during this highly charged period marked by community distrust, civic unrest and pandemic-related public health concerns,” Sutton said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “The task of restoring trust and building community partnerships is paramount and will not be achieved through reactive proposals, however well-intended.  Leadership is needed to engage all stakeholders -- families, neighborhoods, community-based organizations, schools, law enforcement, academic institutions, essential workers, small business and corporate leaders, as well as elected and civic officials.  This thoughtful process should explore a variety of options, shared values, conflicting opinions, desired outcomes and potential unintended consequences as a vital means for informing and strengthening the decision-making process. All voices matter. What NYC needs is a new way of thinking about policing, not a rushed maneuver to move budgets.”

The proposal, and Johnson in particular, came under fire from Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents 5,000 school safety agents, most of whom are black or Hispanic. “If this was a union with a white labor leader and with a mostly white membership, Speaker Corey Johnson would have called me to discuss his plan,” said Floyd, according to a New York Post report. Floyd singled out Johnson for the plan and called him “a racist” for supporting it. In a letter to Johnson and other Council leaders, Floyd said that "The inconvenient truth is that there are New York City school children who seek to harm their classmates and school staff. And is is the enormous responsibility of...school safety agents to protect New York City's 1.1 million school children and 135,000 school staff members from that harm."

In response to Floyd’s comments, the Urban Youth Collaborative, a coalition of youth-led organizations in the city, issued its own retort. “Let’s be serious: Maintaining a system designed to criminalize Black and Brown youth is racist. Finally heeding the calls of Black and Brown youth, clamoring to dismantle this system, is not,” the statement reads. “The evidence shows that no matter how interactions with police change, Black and Latinx students are disproportionately criminalized and harmed by School Safety Agents. We are sick and tired of Black and Latinx students being criminalized for being children and adolescents. We demand police-free schools.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Where the 2021 Mayoral Candidates Stand on Removing School Safety from the NYPD's Domain Tue, 16 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Pandemic Reinforces De Blasio's Inaction on School Desegregation Recommendations https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9409-pandemic-reinforces-de-blasio-inaction-school-desegregation-recommendations https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9409-pandemic-reinforces-de-blasio-inaction-school-desegregation-recommendations deblasio chance carmen

Mayor de Blasio during a school visit (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)


As the coronavirus pandemic further exposes deep fissures in the city's education landscape for low-income students and students of color, it has also further stalled Mayor Bill de Blasio's already-halting efforts to integrate New York City's deeply segregated schools.

In the nine months since a de Blasio-appointed advisory group released its final recommendations on ways to desegregate and in other ways improve city schools, virtually nothing has been said on the subject out of City Hall or the Department of Education beyond a commitment to review them. The mayor said in early September that he would take “the whole school year for deep stakeholder engagement” on the recommendations, but took no public steps in the subsequent six months. Then the pandemic came to New York. The mayor's office is now acknowledging any review effort continues to be on hold as the government's focus and resources are diverted by the pandemic.

The school year and the first chapter of pandemic-induced remote learning is nearing an end, with major admissions policy decisions imminent. Whatever changes de Blasio may advance, he has left many advocates for school desegregation, including even members of his own advisory group, confused and frustrated by the lack of action before the outbreak hit.

"We have not heard back from the Department of Education about whether or not they are going to move forward on any of our recommendations," said Maya Wiley, co-chair of SDAG and former counsel to de Blasio in the mayor’s office, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. "Our position as a group was that we obviously wanted to hear back and hoped for some response on some of the recommendations. We didn't necessarily believe they all would require a full year."

"Yes, it would be better if we had made more progress on the SDAG recs before the pandemic," said City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has pushed for integration-focused admissions reforms in schools within his district and across the city. "That said, the crisis presents a challenge, which we need to rise to and which creates an opportunity to be more thoughtful about school admissions."

With learning, assessment methods, and application processes all disrupted, de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have indicated the city will soon offer changes to school admissions processes, raising hopes and fears of the potential opportunity to expedite reform, though it is unclear how ambitious they may be.

"Many things are going to be reevaluated as a result of this crisis,” the mayor said at a press briefing on May 7 when asked about possible changes to school admissions processes, which must move ahead in some form soon. “The whole concept I've been putting forward, that we are not just going to bring New York City back with the status quo that was there before, but we're going to try and make a series of changes that favor equity and fairness. We were already in the process of doing that when it came to school admissions. So, certainly, the screened schools are being reevaluated and we’ll have more to say on that in the future.”

De Blasio did not mention the recommendations put forth in August of last year by his School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), a controversial and sweeping set of proposals that he has largely avoided since their release.

"When this pandemic started, we shifted our focus to the success of remote learning and the wellbeing of students and staff,” wrote mayoral spokesperson Jane Meyer by email, in response to questions about the status of the administration's review of the School Diversity Advisory Group’s recommendations. “Our priority right now is the health of New Yorkers and academic success of our students in these extraordinary times, and we’ll continue to adjust policies to meet those goals for the duration of this crisis."

When the group published its final report in August, de Blasio said he would assess the recommendations over the next year. “Now we’re going to really dig deep into what makes sense and by the end of the school year we’ll know where we’re going,” he told reporters a few days after the recommendations were released and as the new school year was starting, citing plans to undertake more community engagement. At the time, de Blasio was in the midst of his four-month campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.

"We are taking a very, very deep dive into what the recommendations have been from the School Diversity Advisory committee," Carranza said at the time.

But the mayor has discussed little publicly since then and the recommendations -- or anything related to school desegregation -- were conspicuously absent from his State of the City address in February, when he outlined his priorities for the year, his next-to-last as mayor, under the theme of “Save Our City.”

De Blasio’s further delay in addressing school segregation in New York City, to the extent that it may be attributed to the pandemic fallout, is another example where the coronavirus crisis not only exacerbates racial inequalities by hitting communities of color harder but also by diminishing the government's overall capacity. But the situation also speaks to the slow pace at which the de Blasio administration has approached a particularly thorny issue that goes to the heart of the mayor's promises to end “the tale of two cities” and create "the fairest big city in America."

New York has among the most segregated schools of any state in the country, with a heavy concentration in New York City. A groundbreaking UCLA study in 2014 found that 19 out of New York City's 32 school districts had 10 percent or less white students, including all of the Bronx and two-thirds of Brooklyn. It showed a correlation between racial segregation in schools and concentrations of poverty.

In 2017, after years of pressure from advocates and elected officials, the mayor announced the "Equity and Excellence for All" plan to improve all schools, especially those predominantly serving students of color and historically lacking investment. Soon after, he empaneled the School Diversity Advisory Group to explore ways to increase “diversity” in city schools, while he studiously avoided the words “segregation” and “integration.”

"We have to improve the quality levels of our public schools and we have to do it in a way that promotes equity – that’s the mission, now – that’s the central mission," he told reporters on June 9, 2017, a few days after the announcing the plan. When pressed on the specific issue of segregation he said: "The quality of education for students is paramount in this discussion. So, when we talk about it, we have to understand, we need any plan to start with the quality of education for all students, including those who have not gotten a fair shake previously."

The group, made up of students, parents, and experts, released two sets of recommendations, one in February 2019, which was largely adopted by the mayor and chancellor, and a second in August, which contained significantly more controversial changes to admissions, districting, and tracking policies.

"Our hope was that it would spur a lot more innovation and creativity, not just out of the Department of Education at the administrative level, but also within school districts and across school districts," Wiley said in the interview.

The recommendations are based on the concept that "more educational opportunity was not a one size fits all," she said, and "a clear roadmap around the kinds of admissions policies that were clearly creating more problems than solutions.”

The final recommendations included a range of small and large proposed solutions to the problems of school segregation and its many negative consequences, the most controversial among them being to limit middle school admissions screening and phasing out "gifted and talented" programs, both shown to favor white and Asian students, and the group recommends replacing G&T tracts with more inclusive schoolwide enrichment models. Another controversial point, redrawing school district lines, gets at the geographic element involved in school segregation, especially for elementary schools.

The proposal received fierce opposition from some parents who have had the means to prioritize stronger school districts when deciding where to live and for years have found a sympathetic ear in the mayor, as well as a number of local elected officials.

Wiley said the big ticket items have come to overshadow simpler, perhaps less-controversial ones.

"Some of these are really obvious and easy to fix," she said. "For example, if you use attendance as an admissions factor, you are going to essentially make it more difficult for low-income students of color to be competitive."

Another issue is disciplinary history. "A student who may have had a disciplinary issue because they spit gum on the floor. Does that mean they don't deserve real consideration and opportunity to get into a good program in middle school or in high school?" she asked. "We conflate a lot of different kinds of disciplinary issues and also the ways it sometimes works against low-income students of color in particular."

According to SDAG's first report in February, 87 percent of New York City public school suspensions are of black and Latino students, despite making up 66 percent of the student population.

Fed up with the administration's silence on desegregation, student-led groups IntegrateNYC and Teens Take Charge, which had been prominent advocates in the lead-up to the mayor announcing the SDAG, organized a school boycott to push de Blasio and Carranza to integrate city schools, including by eliminating admissions screens. The boycott was planned for May 18 to coincide with the 66th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision but was called off because of the pandemic. The groups and their allies have continued to use social media and other avenues to keep the conversation alive.

As the end of the school year approaches and students and parents look ahead to the fall, some advocates and local elected officials have called on the city to embrace innovative redistricting and admissions models that have been piloted in certain districts. The most prominent one is in Brooklyn’s Community School District 15, where in 2018 middle schools eliminated screening and moved to a ranked-choice lottery system with a 52 percent of seats reserved for low-income students, students in temporary housing, and English-language learners. Enrollment data released last November after the first year showed promising results for integration.

"Next fall, as today’s fourth graders and seventh graders start the process of applying to middle and high schools, the Department of Education will need to make significant changes, since so many of these decisions have relied on grades, attendance, and test scores," wrote Lander, who represents parts of Community School District 15 and championed the new system, in a new letter to Carranza. "The admissions changes we made together for middle schools in District 15 last year can serve as a model for how to address middle school admissions for the 2021-22 school year.​"

But Lander argues an emergency pandemic response should not be an invitation to replace thoughtful policymaking. "I don't think this moment is a good moment to make permanent long-term decisions. There is just too much uncertainty, too little opportunity to do good, inclusive public process," he told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

"In terms of where the city is in regards to integration, not enough system-wide action has been taken,” wrote Matt Gonzales, director of the Integration and Innovation Initiative at NYU and at one point a member of the SDAG, by email. “The lack of action on the SDAG recommendations is definitely an indication of this."

"However, if you look at the history of integration efforts in NYC, it is also true that no administration has moved the needle more than the current one. The number of districts and individual schools who've implemented plans has increased," he said.

"We very much applauded the fact that the Department of Education, along with the state, were funding districts to look at how they might integrate their schools," said Wiley. "We thought there should be more of that, so that there was actually support for that kind of innovation."

"The good news is the Department of Education was doing some of that already. We hoped they would do more. Obviously it's a challenging time now," she said.

Gonzales said the pandemic has slowed community planning efforts underway in Community School Districts 13, 16, 28, and 9, "but I am hopeful those resume when society resumes."

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Pandemic Reinforces De Blasio's Inaction on School Desegregation Recommendations Thu, 21 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
To Reopen Schools, The Mayor Needs Smaller Classes - Here’s $570 Million in Potential Department of Education Savings to Get Him Started https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9385-reopen-schools-mayor-needs-smaller-classes-570-million-department-of-education-savings https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9385-reopen-schools-mayor-needs-smaller-classes-570-million-department-of-education-savings stu vote reg

Mayor de Blasio needs a plan to reopen city schools (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The New York City Department of Education has lost 74 employees to the novel coronavirus, including 30 teachers and 28 paraprofessionals who have died as of May 8. Evidence has also emerged that children can develop serious illnesses after being infected with the virus, and even those who are asymptomatic are often effective transmitters. 

Now that both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have wisely decided that our public schools will be closed through the end of June, it is time to start thinking about how they will be reopened in the fall to maximize the health and safety of students and staff, and strengthen the academic and emotional support that our students will need to make up for the myriad losses they have suffered this year.

As Mayor de Blasio has said, “Next school year will have to be the greatest academic school year New York City will ever have because everyone is going to be playing catch up.” And yet he has also proposed over $800 million in reductions to the Department of Education, including staffing freezes and at least $140 million taken directly out of school budgets, which would likely cause class sizes to grow even larger, the loss of school counselors and more.

How could next year be the best year ever, given such drastic reductions? In fact, our schools will need increased investments to provide the enhanced feedback and engagement that students will so desperately need after months of isolation and inadequate remote learning. 

Many countries, including Denmark, Germany, and France, are gradually reopening their schools while implementing new protocols including frequent handwashing, temperature-taking, and reducing class sizes to obtain the recommended social distancing within classrooms and prevent the spread of the virus. Some are lowering class size by limiting the number of students into the school at any one time through split or staggered schedules. The American Federation of Teachers has recommended class size reduction be achieved in schools throughout our nation as well: “one of the most important measures districts can take is to reduce class sizes…Class sizes of 12-15 students will, in most circumstances, make it possible to maintain physical distancing protocols.”

Smaller classes have also been shown through research to boost learning and provide the social and emotional connections that many students will need from their teachers, given the loss in learning, isolation, and stress caused by the pandemic this year. Shouldn’t class size reduction happen here too, and if so, how?

Clearly, every available space would have to be used in our school buildings to accomplish the physical separation and smaller classes required. Split sessions would also be implemented in overcrowded schools, and more funding for additional staffing. At first glance, this would appear impossible, especially given the economic crisis the city is facing. Yet considerable savings could be obtained by cutting other, less critical areas of the education budget.

As a letter signed by 34 City Council members pointed out, the city should reduce spending on “consultants, administration, cancelled or unnecessary testing, and contract[s]” rather than cut school budgets.

Prominent among potential savings this year is a big chunk of the $1.1 billion spent annually on school busing, given that these buses haven’t operated since mid-March. Parents and advocates began a campaign against wasteful spending on unused busing, and City Comptroller Stringer sent a letter to the chancellor, pointing out that the city had no legal obligation to renew these contracts in the midst of a pandemic. Following this, the DOE postponed the vote originally scheduled for the Panel for Educational Policy on April 22 to approve $400 million for extending busing contracts through March and April. Cancelling these contracts through the end of the year could save as much as $700 million.  

Considerable savings could also be achieved this year in energy, facilities, and supplies, given the fact that school buildings will be closed three-and-a-half months by the end of June, and will likely shut over the summer as well. About $570 million was allocated for energy and leases this year – with more than $175 million for energy and fuel costs alone. Surely, at least $25 million could be saved in this category.

While the Department of Education has proposed to freeze the hiring of teachers, counselors, and aides, they plan to increase spending on School Safety Agents who are hired by the police, spending a total of more than $432 million. School Safety Agents already number over 5,500, more than the number of counselors, social workers, and school psychologists combined. If the spending on these agents was merely frozen at last year’s levels, that would save at least $5.6 million right there.

There are also considerable cuts that could be made to the bureaucracy: 155 employees were added to the DOE’s central administration in 2019, and 185 more to borough offices. Large raises were awarded to administrators, leading to a 50 percent increase in the number of bureaucrats who earned more than $200,000 per year.    

The mid-level bureaucracy, which includes borough offices, has more than doubled in expenditures to $351 million since de Blasio was elected. If spending on that level returned to what was spent in 2014, that alone could save another $147 million.  

This fall, DOE ordered many schools to administer computerized MAP assessments, which officials testified in the future all students would be required to take several times a year. According to the comptroller’s Checkbook NYC, the cost of the contract with NWEA, the company that produces these assessments, is $5.25 million, with $1.66 million spent to date. Yet a randomized experimental study showed that the use of MAP exams was not correlated with any gains in student achievement, and many educators as well as researchers question their validity.

With more than $570 million in savings described above, we could prevent any cuts to school budgets and allocate at least $100 million to hire staff to lower class sizes, as many parents, education experts, and advocates urged at standing room only City Council hearings held in February before the pandemic hit. 

Moreover, about one-third of elementary grade classes and 40 percent of middle school classes are inclusion classes, meaning that they include both general education students and students with disabilities and have two teachers per class. Strong consideration should be given to dividing these classes in half, while keeping their inclusive nature, which would allow for class sizes of 10 to 16 without any additional hiring.  

New York City schools also have an average of 14 students per teacher, while average class sizes are nearly twice as large. Thousands of push-in specialists, as well as other personnel, such as literacy coaches who generally spend little actual time working directly with students, are already on staff.  Many of these instructional personnel could be re-deployed and assigned to teach their own classes, at no added expense.

If split schedules are introduced, intensive tutoring should be provided to students when they are not attending school, either at their homes, or in community centers or other locales. This could be done by enlisting thousands of volunteers from well-established organizations such as Literacy Inc., as well as recent college graduates whose salaries could be subsidized through the AmeriCorps program.

Our public schools still have not fully recovered from the last economic recession in 2007-2008, when class sizes increased sharply. This fall, there were more than 325,000 students in classes of 30 or more. The number of children in grades 1 to 3 in classes that large has risen by more than 3,000% since 2007.

Over this period, student achievement in New York City has remained stagnant or declined, as measured by the NAEPs, the most reliable national assessments. We simply cannot afford to allow them to lose any more ground. Through creative thinking and targeted savings that could be used to pay for more teachers, counselors, and tutors, and redeploying other instructional personnel already on staff,  smaller classes could be achieved next year, schools could provide the necessary social distancing, and students receive the instructional and emotional support that they will need more than ever before.

***
Leonie Haimson is the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. On Twitter @leoniehaimson.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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To Reopen Schools, The Mayor Needs Smaller Classes - Here’s $570 Million in Potential Department of Education Savings to Get Him Started Mon, 11 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Solving the School Nurse Crisis Before Schools Reopen https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9377-solving-the-school-nurse-crisis-before-schools-reopen-coronavirus-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9377-solving-the-school-nurse-crisis-before-schools-reopen-coronavirus-new-york-city maydb comm isr

Mayor de Blasio talks with nurses (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Long before COVID-19, New York City schools were dealing with a public health crisis: a lack of full-time nurses. Despite operating more than 2,000 schools, the city only employs around 1,400 nurses. It outsources others through private companies, wasting precious tax dollars, more than $100 million per year, on profiteering vendors rather than investing in the nursing staff that our schools need. And that they will need even more once schools open back up.

On Thursday evening, the Panel for Educational Policy approved two emergency contracts to hire additional private nurses for schools, a move that city leaders say is needed to ensure that enough nurses will be available to open schools. However, this approach will only perpetuate a major problem that has been developing for nearly a decade. New York City schools must employ at least one full-time nurse in each school building.

In March, Mayor de Blasio made a promise to have a nurse in each school, but he brought in 85 nurses to assist in filling more than 400 vacancies. It made no progress toward the level of health care that our schools need.

New York City leaders keep sweeping this problem under the rug. With a shortage in the nursing profession, two employment castes along with two union contracts, and an increasing need for medical care within the student population, the work has become one of those complicated issues that is often treated with equal parts passion and paralysis in the offices of elected officials.

Back in late 2018, me and my colleagues from the Community Education Council, District 3 (CEC3), held a public meeting where Dr. Roger Platt, from the Office of School Health, explained the employment structure to Upper West Side and Harlem parents. We couldn't believe how flawed the organization seemed to be, to have roughly 2,000 schools - public, charter, parochial, and private - serviced by only 500 nurses who are employed by the Education Department and 900 nurses employed by the Health Department. This pool of 1,400 “full-time” or permanent nurses had to be supplemented by hundreds of other nurses who were hired via private vendor contracts. 

Union contract agreements complicated the matter further, because as it was later discovered, only the Department of Education (DOE) nurses are really full-time. With the support of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), these coveted nursing positions enjoy salaried work with benefits and pension, working the school year like most teachers. The Department of Health (DOH) nurses are permanent employees but paid an hourly wage (not equal to that of DOE nurses) and overtime. Some, plus DOH nursing supervisors, are also expected to work throughout the year, and their benefits are not as robust as those of the DOE nurses. These nurses are represented by DC37. 

Looking to private nursing companies to staff schools, so as not to deal with the full-time employment issue, seems to be the main driver for so many agency contracts, but there are serious problems with this rationale. For starters, taxpayers are paying for the profits made by the private vendors, who don’t typically pay their nurses all that well. Outsourcing essential government jobs wastes money and also falls short on the quality of work that is needed. 

More importantly, unlucky schools without a full-time nurse often don't know who will be serving their students. Often these are the schools with higher rates of asthma, diabetes, and other conditions that demand medical attention for students. Some schools in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx have asthma rates as high as 40%. Other health conditions are also on the rise, many of which require daily care such as injections, catheterizations, and medication administration.

Contract nurses sent in as subs also don’t even have access to the “Automated Student Health Record” (ASHR) system. When they see a sick student, they have to rely on accurate written records, if any. They complete a written document of the visit, which technically should be entered into ASHR but isn’t. ASHR also informs New York City’s “syndromic surveillance” capabilities, a database of citywide disease information that is more important than ever. 

Before the pandemic, more than 50 New York City schools operated without a nurse on staff at any given day. This led principals to make more 911 calls, taxing our emergency response system. They also had to place calls to parents with children who require skilled nursing care, leading to higher student absence rates. Some parents simply pulled their children out of the DOE and resorted to homeschooling.

To nursing supervisors, this patchwork system has meant a persistent shifting around of schedules, absences, and other issues related to working with independent contractors. It held up the heavy data flow of information related to medication administration forms, because they too get entered into ASHR. But this particular task is a constant reminder of how flawed the school nurse structure is for student care.

New York City has not prioritized school nurses for years. COVID-19 has shown us all how essential our school nurses are and will even more so when school buildings open again. The Panel for Educational Policy vote on private vendor contracts highlights the city’s reluctance to deal with the problem fairly and equitably. But there is still time to make progress on this issue.

City leaders can bring the right people together to restructure the employment model and create a pipeline for the hiring process. We need a school system that truly serves our children, and that means that every school should have a full-time school nurse when we resume normal operations in the fall. 

***
Kim Watkins is a Harlem parent, president of Community Education Council, District 3, and a founding member of Parents Supporting Parents. On Twitter at @kimwatkinsnyc.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Solving the School Nurse Crisis Before Schools Reopen Thu, 07 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
How is New York City Going to Safely Open Its Many Overcrowded Schools, Like Mine? https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9366-how-is-new-york-city-going-to-safely-open-its-many-overcrowded-schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9366-how-is-new-york-city-going-to-safely-open-its-many-overcrowded-schools may adv placement

Mayor de Blasio has major school decisions to make (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


We’re looking at a possible school re-opening this September. I can’t wait to go back. Remote learning is better than nothing, but it’s no substitute for a live classroom. In a live classroom, I can see what students are doing. I can check their work in real time and quickly offer tips for improvement. I can urge students away from sleeping or fiddling with electronic devices.

Now I’m reduced to looking at a bunch of avatars. Who knows what the kids are doing behind them? Not me, at least. I’ve become the teacher who just sits at the desk and never ventures out to see what’s going on. In fairness, my students are in their homes and what goes on in them is none of my business. While I’ve been doing presentations lately to encourage them to come out from behind the avatars, they could have many reasons not to reveal themselves.

Of course, like my colleagues, I do the best I can. As much as I want to get back to my real job, I’m quite concerned about what a return will look like. Lots of schools are overcrowded, though not all of them quite as badly as ours.

As the most requested school in the city, Francis Lewis High School in Queens has become a victim of our own success. Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Education overloaded us to 4,600 students, but made an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) to reduce enrollment. We were down to almost 4,000 students when Mayor de Blasio broke the agreement and loaded us right back up again.

We’re the largest school in Queens. As far as I know, at well over 200% capacity, we’re the most overcrowded school in the city. Assuming there’s no COVID-19 vaccine by September, I’m quite concerned about what returning will look like. Even if we make two end-to-end schedules, or have half the student body come in every other day, we’ll still have a building, conservatively, at roughly 105% capacity.

Given that, how would we achieve anything resembling social distancing? Could we stagger hall passing so that only half the students are out at a time? Could we even get thousands of teenagers to respect social distancing?

It’s really hard to say. We’re at the mercy of the Mayor and New York City Department of Education, not known for thorough consideration of pressing issues. For example, we’ve long known that classes of 34 students are less than optimal for student learning. This notwithstanding, during contract negotiations one of Mayor de Blasio’s hired hands told me the city had no interest in lowering class sizes. And now the question has even more urgency: How are we going to keep students safe if we continue to pack them in like sardines? 

The UFT has made health and safety of students and staff a prime consideration for school reopenings moving forward. I’m grateful to be in a union that can stand up to management. This is particularly relevant  when said management saw fit to keep overcrowded schools open even as Broadway curtains were closed. I will never, ever understand why people with $800 Hamilton tickets were too fragile to go out while 1.1 million students and the many tens of thousands of staff who serve them were all crushed and pushed and shoved and mushed on subways and buses and in the halls of overcrowded buildings.

Dozens of my brother and sister unionists are now dead. Many more are, or have been, quite sick. Who can even conjecture how many of us are walking around asymptomatic and infecting others? No one can dispute that dumping us all back into a hugely overcrowded building will cause even more sickness and death. 

We now know that overcrowding and huge class sizes are not only learning issues, but health issues as well. For the sake of our children, for the sake of our families, and yes for the sake of teachers and other staff, we need to stop acting like overcrowding is acceptable treatment for New York City’s children. We need a real reopening plan to help real students. Their safety is paramount. 

If Mayor de Blasio wishes to salvage what reputation he has left after closing the schools too late, it behooves him to deal with this head on. If we can find space when Amazon needs it, we can find it for our students, too.

***
Arthur Goldstein is an ESL teacher and UFT chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School. He serves on the UFT Executive Board and blogs at nyceducator.com. On Twitter @TeacherArthurG.

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How is New York City Going to Safely Open Its Many Overcrowded Schools, Like Mine? Wed, 06 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Registers Nearly 30,000 Teens to Vote During 2020 Civics Week https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9341-city-registers-30000-teen-voters-2020-civics-week-new-york-city-elections https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9341-city-registers-30000-teen-voters-2020-civics-week-new-york-city-elections city registers 30

 Students participating in Civics Week (Mayor's Office)


In March, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, New York City held its second annual “Civics Week,” which sought to pre-register and register high school and college students to vote.

Given the law passed last year by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, 16- and 17-year-olds are now allowed to pre-register to vote, with their registration kicking in as soon as they turn the voting age of 18 and making high schools more ripe for registration efforts.

Gotham Gazette reported on this year’s efforts at the time, but the city had yet to tabulate all the registration information from the many participating schools, and the coronavirus outbreak then complicated everything. But the city has now shared that during its 2020 Civics Week, 29,642 students were registered or pre-registered to vote. In 2019, 18,233 students were registered, making for a 60% increase this year.

According to the city, hundreds of volunteers from city agencies, community groups and nonprofits, and the offices of more than 40 elected officials were out in hundreds of high school and college classrooms helping students register.

Civics Week was introduced by Mayor Bill de Blasio as a collaboration among his new DemocracyNYC initiative, the mayor’s Public Engagement Unit, and the Department of Education, among others, according to Lindsay Acker, Field Director for DemocracyNYC and the Public Engagement Unit. The week is “dedicated to giving our students the tools they need to be active, productive participants not just in our economy, but in our democracy,” according to the city website.

“Civic engagement is important now more than ever. I was proud to help pass New York State's law allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote because we must empower and encourage our youth to register to vote and be active in our democracy,” said Brooklyn Assembly Member Joe Lentol, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Their voices will determine the laws of tomorrow. The success of the student voter registration drive highlights the importance of this program and that of participation in our democracy."

Laura Wood, Senior Advisor and General Counsel for DemocracyNYC, called the Civics Week student voter registration drive “a great opportunity to empower youth” and credited the big jump in registrations through a “tremendous city-wide coordination and outreach effort” with partnership among City Hall, the DOE, elected officials, community-based organizations, and also the city’s Campaign Finance Board, which runs a robust voter outreach effort called NYC Votes.

For those eligible to vote this year, their registration comes just in time to participate in the 2020 presidential election, as well as other general election races for Congress and the State Legislature happening this fall. And many may be eligible to vote in party primaries set for June, depending on their party registration and relevant races in their home districts.

According to the state bill that made 16- and 17-year-old pre-registration law, “age 16 is a sensible time for the DMV and high schools to collect information for voter pre-registration, as it is the time when a significant amount of people have their first interaction with the DMV, and it is an age where school is still compulsory in New York. Pre-registration allows this information to be collected at a convenient time for the individual rather than making them return to the boards of elections or a state agency when they reach eligible voting age.”

“It cannot be overstated how vital it is to our democracy that young New Yorkers make their voices heard,” said Manhattan City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Five years ago, my office launched Student Voter Registration Day, and thanks to Mayor de Blasio’s DemocracyNYC initiative, opportunities for youth civic engagement only continue to grow.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way New Yorkers are participating in democracy. Several elections, including the state’s presidential primary, were originally postponed from April to June, then canceled, while many elections remain on the ballot, including congressional and state legislative primaries, as well as a primary for Queens Borough President and a vacant City Council District 37 seat in Brooklyn.

The Democratic presidential primary was controversially canceled after all candidates conceded to former Vice President Joe Biden and state lawmakers included language in a state budget bill allowing the Board of Elections to cancel it, citing the pandemic, though the decision is being challenged in court. The Republican presidential primary had already been canceled after no challengers to President Donald Trump made the New York ballot.

Governor Cuomo has now ordered that all eligible voters be offered the chance to vote absentee in the June primaries, while poll sites will be open in some capacity. Other changes are being debated.

“The coronavirus pandemic has transformed every facet of American life,” said Wood. “The 2020 elections are no exception - from registering to vote to election day. The crisis means that moving to an online voter registration system is sensible and timely, and we hope that the city Board of Elections moves quickly to adopt the Campaign Finance Board's system.”

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by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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City Registers Nearly 30,000 Teens to Vote During 2020 Civics Week Thu, 30 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Coronavirus Tests New York City Schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9307-coronavirus-tests-new-york-city-schools-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9307-coronavirus-tests-new-york-city-schools-de-blasio mabdb covid

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Mayor de Blasio faced a short-answer, timed test: whether and when to close New York City's public schools. It was not an easy question. But his delay in answering and failure to adequately prepare has been costly in lives and learning. We continue to pay the price.

Even where the coronavirus outbreak was less severe and despite ambiguous advice from the CDC, district after district, state after state, had already decided to close their schools. But de Blasio hung on, ignoring dire warnings of community spread from his own Health Department.

At the city Department of Education, controlled by the Mayor and headed by Chancellor Richard Carranza, little preparation for the pandemic seems to have taken place, a fatal error debilitating operational effectiveness and public confidence.

When visiting schools in early March, I questioned principals on information coming from the central Department of Education. One said she had only been sent an extra bottle of Purell. Most were only aware of generic advice on personal hygiene and closure in case of student or staff illness due to COVID-19. But there was no well-known protocol for how families or personnel were to report this, especially in the absence of widespread testing, rapid confirmation, or detailed chains of contact. There was no special guidance on handling coronavirus-related student and faculty absenteeism and other looming administrative issues. Experienced principals with deep connection to their school communities and district liaisons felt ready to report exposures. Less adept leaders were in the dark.

There was no evidence that a distance learning order was just days away. Left unasked were critical questions of device availability for teachers and students, home bandwidth, and curriculum. Needs of home insecure, disabled, and English-as-a-new-language students and their families were ignored at the highest levels despite vigorous hand-waving by their advocates inside and outside the Department of Education.

Finally, after the Mayor precipitously announced on a Sunday night that schools would be closed the next day, he and the Chancellor endangered tens of thousands of teachers and administrators by ordering them into close contact the following week to revamp their classes for mass distance learning. Forgotten in the melee that followed were privacy concerns with the widely-adopted Zoom video platform that was easily hacked and shared student information with third party vendors in violation of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Now we're in for the long-haul, if the Mayor and Governor can get their acts together to agree on closing schools through June and instituting distance learning opportunities at least through the summer.

The Chancellor is given to repeating that "We're building the plane while we fly it." Would that ever be the case, the plane would crash. So it is with a school system carrying over a million kids, attended to by more than that number of parents and other care-givers.

It's time to land that plane, give the administration, educators, students, and their adult protectors time to re-engineer jerry-rigged instructional and administrative policies that have left us -- let's face it -- without a functional public education system for over a month. We don't have attendance information. We’re just starting to learn how many teachers, principals, and other front-line school staff have taken sick or died. Promotion policies, tenure decisions, acceptable and accessible online platforms, and a thousand other critical decisions have yet to be made.

If we have gained any wisdom from this month of havoc, let's use a hiatus to make public education more equal and available as the current pandemic rages, with expected resurgence this fall and beyond. I propose two weeks: one for the DOE to re-engineer and a second for professional development (not in person, of course). Let's not let de Blasio's original sin of delayed preparation or Carranza's self-congratulatory stiff-upper-lip bromides keep us from addressing the long-term educational challenges ahead.

***
David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Education Leadership, Law and Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. On Twitter @BloomfieldDavid.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Coronavirus Tests New York City Schools Mon, 13 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on the City's Shift to Remote Learning https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9271-max-murphy-podcast-schools-chancellor-richard-carranza-remote-learning-coronavirus-education https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9271-max-murphy-podcast-schools-chancellor-richard-carranza-remote-learning-coronavirus-education 2 mxm mdbcovid600

Chancellor Carranza and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


April 1, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on the City's Shift to Remote Learning

wbai robert carranzaNew York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza joined the show to discuss the city's shift to remote learning amid the coronavirus crisis.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on the City's Shift to Remote Learning Wed, 01 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Pre-Registering 16- and 17-Year-Olds to Vote the Focus of Second Annual City ‘Civics Week’ https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9199-pre-registering-16-17-year-olds-vote-city-civics-week https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9199-pre-registering-16-17-year-olds-vote-city-civics-week voter reg day

The city focused on student voter registration (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) mounted, but before Mayor Bill de Blasio made the monumental decision to close the city’s schools for at least five weeks, New York City government held its second annual Civics Week to encourage civic participation and voter registration among students.

After a new law passed last year to allow it, the city focused this year’s Civics Week on pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, beginning with such a voter registration drive for high school students at William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City, Queens, on Monday March 2.

While the city has made efforts for Student Voter Registration Day in the past and launched Civics Week to help correct some troubling trends both here and nationally, the new state law allowing voter pre-registration of those who will soon be voting age added a new element to the larger project.

Civics Week was introduced by de Blasio as a collaboration among his new DemocracyNYC initiative, the mayor’s Public Engagement Unit, and the Department of Education, according to Lindsay Acker, Field Director for DemocracyNYC and the Public Engagement Unit. The week is “dedicated to giving our students the tools they need to be active, productive participants not just in our economy, but in our democracy”, according to the DemocracyNYC website.

In a press release from May 2019, the City announced that during last Civics Week, 18,233 students were registered to vote. According to a March announcement from the mayor’s office launching this year’s Civics Week, “in just the past two years, DemocracyNYC, the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit and the Department of Education registered nearly 30,000 students.”

This year’s Civics Week included a mass effort to register potential student-voters in high schools and colleges across the city. High schools are now a larger focus of the effort given the pre-registration law passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year. For those eligible to vote this year, their registration comes just in time to participate in the 2020 presidential election, not to mention other federal and state-level elections coming up in April and June primaries and the November general election. There’s also an election for Queens Borough President, where a special election was just cancelled, but a primary is set for June, with the general in November to select a replacement for the final year of what was now-District Attorney Melinda Katz’s term.

“Ahead of such a busy election year, we are proud to be empowering thousands of youth that will be 18 on Election Day. We are also excited to take the pre-registration law that went into effect this year and execute it on the ground,” said Acker.

“Our students are the future leaders of our City, and what we do now to empower them to vote will strengthen our democracy for years to come,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I encourage all students to register and show up at the polls on Election Day because their voice matters.”

According to the Civics Week announcement from the city, events throughout the week included “youth voter registration drives, participatory budgeting for their schools, public speaking competitions, and town halls on issues that matter to them and their communities.”

The New York City Department of Education also provided schools with curriculum resources for students grades K-12 to help them learn about civics and how to participate in a democracy.

The curriculum seeks to celebrate youth voice, encourage civic empowerment, and highlight the importance of registering to vote, according to the DOE. The DOE did not provide more detailed information on the curriculum when asked by Gotham Gazette.

“Understanding the importance of registering to vote starts so much earlier than 16, 17, 18,” said Brooke Wallace, New York program director at Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that runs “action civics” programming in schools in six states including New York. “It starts in middle school and even earlier to understand the importance and to understand all the powers of their voice and input at a young age, and how they can make a difference in their community civically.”

The curriculum seeks to put democracy into different contexts, allowing for students with different experiences to understand how they can use their voice in their own communities.

“At the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, we prioritize community empowerment because we know how critical education about your rights and exercising your voice through civic participation is to realizing a more inclusive, equitable, and just world for all of us,” said Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, in a statement. “Through this Civics Week initiative, we are helping to prepare young New Yorkers from diverse families to fully participate in decisions that will impact their lives and their communities.”

According to the state bill that made 16- and 17-year-old pre-registration law, the lead sponsors of which were State Senator David Carlucci and Assemblymember Charles Lavine, “The age 16 is a sensible time for the DMV and high schools to collect information for voter pre-registration, as it is the time when a significant amount of people have their first interaction with the DMV, and it is an age where school is still compulsory in New York. Pre-registration allows this information to be collected at a convenient time for the individual rather than making them return to the boards of elections or a state agency when they reach eligible voting age.”

Wallace of Generation Citizen had the opportunity to sit in on a couple of the classroom sessions where teachers were implementing the civics curriculum provided by the city and was hopeful about what she saw.

“I saw that teachers were able to really customize and tailor the curriculum for their classroom, which I thought was really powerful and impactful. I thought that it was really well done the way that the DOE and DemocracyNYC provided a lesson as a guide for teachers, but then teachers were able to say, ‘Oh, I know my students are interested in X, Y, and Z,’ or ‘I need to do more framing and really make the lesson impactful and exciting,’” Wallace said.

According to Aker, the voter registration drive for Civics Week and representatives from DemocracyNYC and the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit were in over 1,000 classrooms across all five boroughs throughout the week.

Officials are still going through forms that were submitted during voter registration to do quality control, so final numbers on students registered are not available yet, according to Luis Feliz Leon, communications director for DemocracyNYC.

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by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Pre-Registering 16- and 17-Year-Olds to Vote the Focus of Second Annual City ‘Civics Week’ Mon, 16 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000