Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability with Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson, Strategic Policy Initiatives and Executive Director Sideya Sherman, Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity. City Hall. Thursday, June 17, 2021. (305701)
Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

“…is trash,” said parent Tamika Hall cutting off the beginning of a question that started with the mayor’s name. Hall, like others, isn’t too fond of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s back-to-school plans.

What’s the mayor’s plan B? There’s no plan B.

De Blasio is staying the course when it comes to opening schools at the regularly scheduled time with no remote learning option. This, despite the ongoing threat of the Delta variant of the coronavirus overtaking the five boroughs like COVID-19 did in 2020.

There’s the possibility of Americans, particularly those with cancer and other immunocompromised individuals, receiving a booster shot protection against the Delta variant. New York City Health Commissioner Dave A. Chokshi, MD, MSc. Said the city will be ready to provide another booster shot for COVID by September no matter the outcome of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval. There’s a plan.

“I do want to emphasize that the news reports that we’re hearing are still preliminary,” said Chokshi on Tuesday. “We do need the federal government to come up with…with its official guidelines, particularly the FDA authorization, and that will likely require that all of the science be vetted, and it goes through the official process before booster doses are formally recommended.”

But to Hall, that doesn’t mean much if there are still unvaccinated children in proximity to her kids.

“I still see people wearing masks and people who are careless,” said Hall. “But the kids still can’t be vaccinated. How are we gonna ensure that they’ll be safe in school?

Florida is an example of the worst-case scenario. This week, 8,400 students, along with several hundred school employees, have been quarantined in Hillsborough County, FL. as of Tuesday evening, Aug. 17, 400 students tested positive for COVID. While the number of those quarantined makes up a sliver of the county’s school population (213,491), it’s enough to cause alarm.

And the school district is still allowing students to opt out of wearing a mask. As of Tuesday, the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 was just under 2,000. American children make up more than two percent of all new COVID infections and no one younger than 12 is eligible for the vaccine.

So, what about NYC?

When asked about its plans, Department of Education (DOE) officials noted that, prior to the start of school, all schools host open houses to welcome back families. This year they will present the health and safety measures they’ve taken to keep school building safe. Currently, masks are mandatory in public school buildings, and they’ll follow all Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distance mandates for classrooms.

They also noted that each school will have an updated, consistently maintained, air ventilation system. Also, custodial staff had a one-year head start on how to handle COVID in school and should be ready to do so for the 2021-22 school year.

“We announced in May our plan to fully open schools safely and put our school community’s needs front and center,” noted Nathaniel Styer of the DOE. “The past eighteen months have put a stark spotlight on how nothing can replace a loving, caring in-person educator and our health and safety measures have made our buildings some of the safest places to be during the pandemic.”

Hall has three kids, Kiara, who’s in 7th grade and attends Tompkins Middle School, and Taylor and Kennedy, the latter in fourth grade and the former in 5th grade. They both attend The Neighborhood School in the East Village. She told the AmNews that whatever the city’s doing to ensure parents a safe environment is already failing.

“We have these questions, and they don’t have the answers,” Hall who now works in marketing, but taught in the city for five years. “And when we do get answers, it changes.”

“They’re operating on a wing, a vaccine and a prayer.”

Some teachers and parents agree.

A recent petition at––which includes an open letter for the letter on behalf of educators and parents–– called on the mayor to include a remote option for the upcoming school and mandate vaccines for every school employee and student 12-years-old or older.

“We demand an updated COVID-19 citywide dashboard that is more transparent, meaningful and reliable in its data reporting of COVID-19 incident cases, hospitalizations and deaths that tracks over 90-day intervals and shows vaccination rates,” reads the letter/petition.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) wants to figure out the right path to take for this school year and believes that it should be a collaborative effort. The union recently passed a resolution stating that officials will do everything to educate its constituents on the Delta variant, vaccination and dealing with the increase in COVID-19 infections in children.

“The variant and ensuing rise in cases have changed the situation: More employers are considering vaccination policies, including mandates,” stated AFT President Randi Weingarten. “And while we still believe the best way to increase vaccinations is through education and voluntary adoption, we want to be in a position to work with our employers on workplace vaccination policies, including how they’re implemented…so everyone has access to vaccines and time to get them, and so no one is penalized for medical or religious reason…We believe that workplace policies should be done with working people, not to them.”

Hall still had some choice words for the mayor on possibly ignoring the incoming Delta storm.

“When you decide to go to a barbecue even though it’s raining, if it keeps raining, I eventually pack up and go,” Hall said. “It’s like the ‘this is fine’ meme with the dog. Cause it ain’t fine.”