Stacy has taught for nine years. She’s a diabetic and has asthma. She’s taught fully remote since the pandemic began. If she’s ever infected with COVID-19, she has a lower chance of survival.
She isn’t ready to come back to the classroom. But with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement on Monday, May 24 that school will return to full operation starting Sept. 13, she has a decision to make.
“I think it’s hope rather than a certainty,” said Stacy, who wishes to remain anonymous, about the mayor’s plans. “But I think that it’s being pushed as a certainty.”
Nevertheless, de Blasio is pushing forward with the goal of reopening schools, with no remote learning option in place.
“Every single child will be back in the classroom,” said de Blasio to reporters on Monday. “I have talked to so many parents who have been wanting to hear this confirmed and I am confirming it once and for all. We’re going to have plenty of protections in place as we proved, even during the toughest months of COVID, that we could keep kids and staff safe with a gold standard of health and safety measures. We’re going to do that again.”
Stacy said she was blindsided by the announcement and that other teachers were blindsided as well.
“I think the biggest frustration I heard is that we found out about it when everyone else found out about it,” she said. “And that’s been a consistent thing (with de Blasio). It feels like a slap in the face. If I get an announcement from the DOE, I get one from the UFT a couple of hours later. We got the email this morning at around 7:34 a.m.”
The CDC’s still has its three-feet social distancing mantra in place for classrooms. De Blasio believes that those mandates will change the next few months as the number of COVID cases continue to drop.
“I think the fact is clear to me that as more data comes in, more progress, they’re going to make adjustments,” said de Blasio. “But, right now, let’s just take the current three feet rule. Right now, all New York City schools would qualify. That wasn’t true a couple of months ago. It’s true now. If we had to use a space that was normally used for other things to make it work for a period of time, we would. But I don’t see that. And even if you said, well, that might happen.
“I don’t see it happening for long because COVID is being defeated,” said de Blasio.
But stats show that, for certain neighborhoods, reopening could be playing with fire.
According to the American Diabetes Association, in the great New York City/New Jersey area, 12.5% of the population (2 million) have diabetes with 517,000 of those not realizing they have it, and 36.2% of the population (5.4 million) have diabetes. Latinx and Black New Yorkers suffer from diabetes more than other demographics in the city. The ADA states that 22 Black New Yorkers 100,000 died from diabetes. Twenty-three out of every 100,000 Latinx New Yorkers died from diabetes.
According to the Center for Disease Control, having Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes make people more susceptible to becoming severely ill if they contract the coronavirus. When it comes to asthma, people in poorer areas that have been victimized by environmental racism suffer the most. According to the CDC, 10% of adults in NYC are asthmatic in comparison to 7.5% across the United States.
The Mott Haven and Melrose neighborhoods in the Bronx are a hotbed for asthma cases. According to the city’s health department, in 2015, those two neighborhoods had triple the hospitalization rate for asthma as the rest of the city.
The South Bronx is home to the Cross Bronx, Major Deegan and Brucker expressways. Areas that were decimated in the mid 20th century, by Robert Moses, to build said expressways so people could escape the city to the suburbs of Connecticut once their workdays in Manhattan ended. They’ve also contributed to the high cases of asthma in the Bronx.
A recent, peer-reviewed study in the journal Environmental Research Letters points to this belief. Conducted by Pro-Publica and the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, people who live below the poverty line, have a lower median home value, are Black or Latinx, and live in urban areas are more likely to have respiratory issues.
According to a 2018 report by the New York State Comptroller’s Office, more than 28% of Bronx household live below the poverty (when compared to 18.4% citywide) and 40.1 of children in the borough live below the poverty line (compared to 26.6 citywide).
Chronic respiratory diseases like asthma can make you more likely to get severely ill if you catch COVID-19.
“We’re going to support kids. We’re going to support the whole family,” said de Blasio. “We’re going to show that we’ll do new things to reach kids academically and to address their emotional issues. But it only works if everyone is back in person, the way education was meant to be.”
When the AmNews asked about those with pre-existing health conditions that put them in danger if they ever contracted the coronavirus, we were directed to a memo the United Federation of Teachers recently sent to union members.
“Please be aware that any medical accommodations that have been granted this school year will expire on June 30,” the memo read. “With vaccines now available, we do not anticipate that the DOE will grant blanket accommodations for high-risk populations as it did this school year in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“DOE employees will be able to apply for individual medical accommodations that existed before the pandemic, and the DOE will look at each individual’s situation to determine whether it will grant the accommodation,” the memo continued.
Places like the Bronx, which has a heavy Latinx and Black population, are the least vaccinated in the city.
According to the city, for all ages, only 40% of the Bronx has gotten the first vaccine for COVID-19. The lowest among the five boroughs. Within that population only 26% of Black Bronx residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Stats like these show the danger of going back to normal. Not only could it affect people physically, but it could take a toll on them mentally.
Jazmine Cobham, an organizer for Teens Take Charge, told the AmNews that City Hall isn’t factoring in the mental aspect of coming back to school. This is tenfold for schools that were shut down because of infection.
“Mental health needs to be prioritized and NYC isn’t doing enough about it,” said Cobham. “There are many students who are committing suicide because of stress and the lack of mental health resources. We need to make resources such as therapists, hotlines and safe spaces easily accessible for students. Additionally, when the mayor introduced blended learning, many schools had to stop due to the fact that a student tested positive for covid within their schools.
“Now imagine everyone going back to school without the option of doing remote learning,” said Cobham.
Stacy’s on the same wavelength as Cobham but took it even further. She believes that the lack of options for teachers with pre-existing conditions will lead to many calling it a wrap on their careers.
“I’m certain that some people will be leaving the profession,” Stacy said. “People are generally gonna have to consider if they’re comfortable going in person and teaching children. I’m gonna have to choose myself. I think it’s negligent, personally.
“It’s like they ripped the band-aid off.”