Two weeks ago New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza toured P.S. 59 in Bedford-Stuyvesant trying to convince the public that schools were safe to attend.
“…If you went around the building with us, you saw absolutely beautiful classrooms, not only just clean, like extraordinarily clean, lively, colorful, energetic classrooms,” said de Blasio. “Richard and I have spent a long time going through classrooms in our careers, and immediately I could see the glow in Richard’s face that this is exactly what we want to see all over the city.”
If the past week is any indication, the mayor needs to do a lot more convincing.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday changes to start dates for New York City public schools:
- 3-K, Pre-K and District 75 schools will open on Sept. 21
- K-8 and K-5 schools will open on Sept. 29
- Middle and high schools will open on Oct. 1
Last week, the plan to reopen public schools was questioned after revelations that some teachers who had returned to school buildings tested positive for the coronavirus. During a Zoom conference this week, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that de Blasio, Carranza, City Hall, the schools and the teachers needed more time due to lack of readiness and insurance of safety.
“At this moment, they are not making the grade in terms of getting all this work done…If you ask me if we are ready to open today, I would say we are not,” said Mulgrew.
On Monday, Sept. 14, the mayor announced that close to 17,000 staff members that were tested for COVID-19 yielded 55 positive results (a 0.32% positivity rate). During a virtual live town hall, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams applauded City Hall for recognizing the problem and delaying schools’ re-openings, but said that 55 positive tests is too many among staff who’ve already returned to school buildings. Williams calls the lack of foresight a logistical failure.
“The mayor and chancellor got an assignment over five months ago: to develop and implement a strategy for schools in the fall that would be educationally sound, scientifically supported and centered on the safety of students and staff,” said Williams. “Failure to deliver on that charge, while holding to arbitrary deadlines, has put teachers and administrators, students and parents in a near-impossible situation.
“Re-opening strategies need to be deliberate and methodical, guided by science and framed in equity to minimize risk,” continued Williams. “We need more time for preparation and less focus on a looming, unrealistic and unsafe deadline.”
Last week, the Department of Education’s ventilation reports found that 96% of classrooms had good ventilation systems and 57% of bathrooms were declared to have good ventilation systems.
But due to the recent issues, de Blasio and Carranza announced the debut of a new multi-agency partnership with the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Mental Health, and the Test & Trace Corps.
The DOE COVID Response Situation Room, according to city officials, is designed to facilitate rapid responses to positive coronavirus cases in public schools. The city said it would provide a point-of-contact between schools and agency partners that are tasked with testing, contact tracing and ensuring proper interventions.
“The Situation Room is the precise system we need to identify, trace and treat positive cases within our school communities,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “My pledge is simple: every case will be met with swift and decisive action to keep transmission low and our kids and teachers safe.”
Carranza stated that, with the unique situation the city finds itself in, it’s all hands on deck. “Our principals will now have a one-stop shop to raise concerns and receive rapid, coordinated responses that put the health and safety of our school communities first.”
While New York City Public Schools are generating stress for all involved, the City University of New York is not immune to the stress of the coronavirus.
Teachers at the Hunter College Campus Schools planned a protest meant to take place outside of the Upper East Side-based school on orientation day. Faculty and staff believe that the safety protocols at their school aren’t up to par with de Blasio and Carranza’s plans.
With 150 teachers and 1,500 students at Hunter College Campus Schools’ K-6 and 7-12 public schools scheduled to begin hybrid instruction next Monday, Sept. 21, teachers are demanding that the building (which houses mostly windowless classrooms) get a proper ventilation inspection and undergo other safety measures.
“Hunter teachers love our students and want to return to in-person teaching in buildings that have been proven safe with adequate health and safety protocols,” said Tina Moore, the Hunter College Campus Schools chair of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY). “But the Hunter College Campus Schools are not ready. Their plan fails to meet the standards set for the vast majority of NYC public school students and it puts students, faculty, staff, families and our community at risk of contracting and spreading a lethal virus. The Hunter College Campus Schools administration must come to the table and listen to the concerns of its teachers.”
According to PSC-CUNY officials, Hunter College President Jennifer Raab and HCCS Director Lisa Siegmann, have, allegedly, refused to allow independent safety inspectors access to the school and tried to pass off a memo from a contractor hired to repair the building’s ventilation system as an independent inspector’s report. Teachers have deemed the school’s ventilation system “inadequate.”
The AmNews contacted Hunter College’s and CUNY’s press offices for comment, but didn’t receive comments by press time.