New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Education plan to reopen schools, but they’re both getting pushback from Albany and Washington, D.C.
Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced the new school re-opening schedule on Wednesday, July 8. The program maps out their approach for students and parents for the upcoming school year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The city will help schools develop schedules that combine learning in-person and remotely on a weekly basis. The plans also include in-person and remote instruction every week. The schedules will be provided to families one month before the school year begins. De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said school attendance would be limited to only one to three days a week for social distancing purposes.
“I’ve heard from community members, I’ve heard from people in the business, community, civic groups, clergy all over the city––the same message––everyone’s looking to the public school system to indicate the bigger direction of New York City,” said de Blasio during a media briefing on Wednesday. “So, we have an obligation first and foremost to our kids and our families, but also to the whole city to work hard now to be ready for September. And our parents have spoken clearly, the DOE did an extraordinary survey of parents––400,000 responses, 75% of our parents said they want their kids back in the school buildings, getting the very best education.”
The city’s plan would require physical distancing, face coverings worn by everyone in the building at all times, consistent hand washing and access to hand sanitizers. Lunch would be held in either classrooms or assigned seating and a section of each school would have an isolation room in case a child gets sick. The plan also includes nightly deep cleaning of the building with electrostatic sprayers that spray disinfectants and would include “improved” HVACs for ventilation.
“DOE central will provide all of this. It will not come out of individual school budgets,” said Carranza. “Our buildings will be deep cleaned on a nightly basis with electrostatic disinfectant sprayers. And HVAC systems are being upgraded as we speak to ensure better ventilation in all of our schools. We will also provide staff with the training that they need to keep themselves and our students safe.”
While de Blasio and Carranza celebrate the plan they’ve come up with, they’ve encountered two roadblocks: one named Trump and the other named Cuomo.
On the same day as de Blasio and Carranza’s announcement New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that he would announce a date for school reopenings only after talking with all stakeholders.
“We have 700 school districts in this state, and they range from rural to urban to suburban areas,” said Gov. Cuomo. “Localities are very involved in their schools and school decisions, so we have been meeting with them,” he said. “During the first week of August, the state will announce a decision on whether or not those schools reopen, and we want to make that decision with the best available data because facts change here day to day and week to week.
“A week can be a lifetime with this virus because everything changes so quickly,” continued Cuomo. “The schools say they need a decision made by the end of the first week in August so they can then turn on the switches and get everything ready for September, and we’ll look at the data in that first week and then we’ll make a decision.”
But a bigger roadblock to the mayor’s plan comes in the form of President Donald Trump whose administration announced that they would withhold aid to school districts that don’t open in full operation. The president wants all children attending schools all five days a week.
“Our country has got to get back, and it’s got to get back as soon as possible,” stated Trump. “And I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed.”
One state is already following Trump’s orders.
On Monday, July 6, a day before 7,300 new coronavirus cases sprung up in the state, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered all schools to reopen in the fall in full operation with in-person instruction.
But for others like New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta, Trumps orders are absurd.
“Health and safety of students, families, educators and other school staff, and equitable access to a high-quality education must be the top priorities in reopening schools,” said Pallotta in a statement. “The federal government’s demands that schools reopen without concern for health, safety and equity are simply out of touch. Thankfully here in New York, we know the governor, the Regents and fellow education stakeholders are taking this seriously.”
A recent poll conducted by the Education Trust-New York (ED Trust-NY), an organization said to devote itself to addressing inequities in education, claimed that although parents support their schools’ overall handling of the coronavirus––85% March and 83 percent in school––there was a gap by income with opinions on how schools responded to COVID-19. According to ED Trust-NY’s poll, 76% of low-income families approved of how their school handled COVID-19 (when compared to 86% of higher-income families). Some pundits and activists have argued that a lack of resources for schools in low-income neighborhoods have exacerbated and increased exposure during the pandemic.
That’s why ED Trust-NY Executive Director Ian Rosenblum said that the state needs to not only address school reopening, but use this time to deal with the resource gap.
“In this unprecedented moment, New York’s education system is facing the dual crises of the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and the realities of systemic racism in our society,” stated Rosenblum. “As state and school district leaders continue to plan for reopening schools, New York only has two choices: to allow the pre-existing inequities in our education system to continue to widen, or to take deliberate action to address them.”