Monday marked the first day of the 2021-’22 school year. It also marked the beginning of the fight for a remote option and a battle for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legacy.
The mayor was quick to tout the reopening and state that his mission was accomplished.
“Kids are back. Kids are back,” said de Blasio to reporters on Tuesday.
The mayor pointed to the lack of positive COVID rates at the end of the 2020-’21 school year and the success of the Summer Rising program as reasons for the city not providing parents with a remote option.
The city’s guidelines for keeping schools COVID free include a combination of ventilation, cleaning, and other actions.
“I talked to kids that hadn’t been in school in a year and a half, and they’re ready, parents ready to see their kids go someplace else for a little while, and a lot of staff, a lot of teachers really excited to have kids back,” said de Blasio. “But, so far, we’re hearing really, really good things.”
De Blasio is full speed ahead for all parties coming back. Despite cries from the New York City Council to slow things down, the mayor believes that his agenda will win in the end. But with the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, found in a few New Yorkers who tested positive for the virus, his actions were deemed unacceptable by New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Education Committee Chairman Mark Treyger during a hearing two weeks ago.
But the city could measure its success by the numbers. According to Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter, those numbers weren’t ready yet.
“We had a ton of students showing up registering at schools yesterday, and so we don’t have a number because the number is rolling every single day, more students are registering, more students are showing up at schools, but as the mayor said, as soon as we get to the point where we have full attendance taken across our system, we’ll share those numbers,” Porter said to reporters.
When the city’s numbers finally arrived, there was a dip in attendance when compared to the first days of school in 2019 and 2018, the pre-COVID years. According to the New York City Department of Education, 82.4% of eligible students attended school on Monday. In 2019, the number was 90%. In 2018, the number was 89.5%.
De Blasio said the numbers weren’t bad under the circumstances and that he expects the numbers of registrations to rise in the next few weeks.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that educators played a large part in the opening of the school year, but he wasn’t available for a full comment by press time.
Last week, when the AmNews asked the DOE about the lack of a remote option, we were directed to the city’s guidelines that included vaccinations for all education employees, consistent school maintenance and options for immunocompromised public school students, and mandatory vaccinations for anyone participating in high contact Public School Athletics League (PSAL) sports that require people being up close.
But this week, New York State Supreme Court Judge Laurence signed a temporary restraining order request brought by the Municipal Labor Committee against vaccines for all city workers, which includes DOE employees. While the city said it would carry on in the meantime, some parents believe that a remote option would have helped a situation like this one.
Shalonda Curtis-Hackett, president of the New York State Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA), said that denying families a remote option is a “death wish.”
“We decided to keep our children 2nd, 5th, 9th home until we get a remote option. Our decision was based on the inadequate response to parents like myself from Meisha Porter who claimed school would be safe,” said Curtis-Hackett, in an email. “Just looking at social media kids are not social distancing, masks are not being used properly and schools are overcrowded. At no fault to the schools as I believe administrators are doing the best they can with the directives, policy and facilities they have. It’s the mayor and chancellor who are rigid and have this air of toxic positivity that it’s safe and gaslight us even though we can see with our own two eyes it is not as safe as they want us to believe.”
Community Education Council’s Presidents’ Representative Tom Sheppard is not happy with the mayor, the schools commissioner and the city.
“Is this what we have been reduced to?” asked Sheppard. “Have we been reduced to a society where a mayor and a schools chancellor can completely ignore the concerns, anxiety, and fears of parents, educators, and administrators and impose their will on all of us because they can?
“What can I do to stop this reckless behavior before one of our children dies from this?”
Sheppard protested the school reopening by keeping his children home. Sitting with them on the steps of Tweed Courthouse in lower Manhattan with signs advocating for a remote option.
“I wanted them to understand for themselves what they are being forced back into,” said Sheppard.
Amid all of the hoopla, if one were to give the city a grade on Monday’s operations, what would it be?
“I would rate the city’s job C (Fair),” said New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Curtis Sliwa. “Unfortunately, things changed every other day. Communication did not sort that out for parents and students. And one of the biggest problems I saw was children and young adults fiddling with their masks.”
The AmNews reached out to New York Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams’ people for comment, but were waiting for one, that was promised, by press time.
U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona was more straightforward on social media.
“ A+,” Cardona said on Twitter. He elaborated with reporters on Monday.
“Enjoy the school year,” Cardona said during his visit to P.S. 121 in the Bronx, with Porter this week. “They did it right. And I know this is going to be an awesome year for New York, for everyone. And we have a special guest that wants to say, hello, Mayor. Come on over, special guest. Tony the Tiger’s ready to kick things off.”