Yesterday the NYC Department of Education released more information about health and safety protocols for school [[link removed]] this fall, including how they plan to handle testing & tracing of coronavirus cases. For parents trying to decide by the August 7th deadline whether to register for “blended learning” or keep their children full-time remote, the City’s plan (contained in its submission [[link removed]] to the NYS Department of Health, and available on the DOE’s “Return to School” portal [[link removed]] ) still leaves more hard questions than good answers.
Under the proposed guidelines, NYC schools will only open for blended/in-person learning if the city’s infection rate stays below 3% (lower than New York State’s threshold of 5%; right now we’re averaging 1.2%). In cases where 1 or 2 students or teachers test positive, their individual classroom would close for 14 days. Entire schools will close if there are multiple cases in different classrooms. The protocol for handling positive tests in the schools relies heavily on frequent, timely testing (with priority given to DOE staff at the City’s 34 testing sites) and contact tracing investigations. Given the long testing delays we are seeing right now, it is hard to imagine that this plan will feel particularly reassuring and the situation may change by time classes start.
As a public school parent, as the son of a life-long public school guidance counselor, as someone who loves public education, I share your anxiety, uncertainty, and frustration. There are no good answers this fall, and what is best for families will vary, even by child. With two different kids of our own, Meg and I know that for some kids, the need for in-person time, limited as it is, with teachers and fellow students feels utterly urgent. For other kids, the focus and self-direction of remote learning, while not ideal, works ok. For some families or teachers, of course the concern about a vulnerable family member will be the deciding factor for choosing all-remote. For other families, the need to go to work for as many hours as possible to avoid eviction and keep food on the table will weigh out over concerns about health and safety. These are abominable choices.
We shouldn’t have to make them either. If our country’s leaders had locked down harder, faster, and longer, we would have had a much better chance of drastically reducing community spread earlier. If we had invested early in testing and tracing, maybe after 6 months we could count on doing it broadly and efficiently. If nationwide we had prioritized schools over bars, we would be in a much better place to open schools with reasonably good social distancing measures. If we lived in a country that had robust child care or would pay to keep people home while we worked to isolate outbreaks, things could be different. But here we are, facing a fall with a lot of uncertainty and no good answers.
For whatever it’s worth, please know that you have my compassion and support in whatever decision you make, and that my team & I will be there to support your families, and your school communities, however we can.
Here are a few things we’re doing to try to make school work a little better this fall. We’d love to work together with you on them:
Let schools use outdoor spaces
One of the few encouraging ideas to emerge over the summer is to support schools to make as much use as possible of nearby streets and parks to expand their footprint and keep students together safely. Unfortunately, yesterday the Mayor and Chancellor belittled this idea, saying it was impossible “because of weather,” despite the success of opening streets for restaurants, of public pools, of playgrounds. But we’re not giving up.
Sign the petition to allow schools to use parks and open streets and tents this fall. [[link removed]] Join and spread the word about our digital townhall on Thursday, August 6th at 7 p.m. [[link removed]] to build a strong citywide coalition, and to hear and share creative ideas and resources already being developed in schools around the city.
With limited teachers, space, and funds, we’re not expecting magic. But we are fighting hard for the city to tap into the creativity and resilience of New Yorkers to make the best of the situation. The Department of Transportation has made it easy for restaurants to apply for and be granted the ability to utilize street space outside. They can do the same for schools, many of which are hoping to be able to use a little outdoor space for lunch and recess while their cafeterias are transformed into classrooms. New York City is lucky to have hundreds of amazing parks, many of which would be great sites for lessons on scientific observation or descriptive writing. Let’s work together to support schools across the city to safely and consistently make use of this space, for as long as the weather allows. I know more than a few kids and teachers who strongly prefer bundling up to staying all-remote.
Child care and accommodations for working parents
I’m continuing to push hard for more investment in child care so that working parents who need to can go to work, and so that the child care industry can survive this crisis. This week we convened a good call with the NYC Department of Education (thanks to Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack) and a coalition of Brooklyn Coalition of Early Childhood Programs [[link removed]] , about the City’s RFI for organizations interested in providing wraparound child care [[link removed]] this year.
It’s a good first step, but there’s a lot more to do, under any of the educational options. So I will keep pushing for the plan we laid out to make back-to-school work for working families [[link removed]] : wraparound child care for all working families who need it, a workplace accommodation law to make sure working parents can keep their jobs, and support for childcare providers to stay safe and solvent.
Social and emotional learning in the face of trauma
One of the more encouraging parts of DOE’s plan [[link removed]] (the pages aren’t numbered, but I think it’s page 17) is it’s focus on social and emotional learning, with the goal of helping our kids deal with the overwhelming trauma of the pandemic.
DOE pledges that before school starts it “will implement a comprehensive, multi-part professional learning series that empowers teachers with foundational knowledge and basic skills of trauma-informed care; this is for all staff serving students from Birth to 5 and K-12 populations.” All students will take part in a “Bridge to School” plan that will help “build coping skills, process grief, re-connect, build community, and orient themselves to the new dual environments and expectations,” and have access as needed to a multi-tiered system of mental health supports. There’s not a lot of time to get that ready, but it’s definitely what I long to see for our schools and our students this fall.
If the DOE is serious about these goals, they’ll join us in the effort to cancel high-stakes State tests this year [[link removed]] , which will serve no purpose other than increasing anxiety. And they should adopt an admissions process that does not rely on screens that have been rendered meaningless during the pandemic [[link removed]] .
If you know parents around the city who share these concerns and want to get involved, please forward this email to them. It won’t bring good answers to all the hard questions, that’s for sure. But this pandemic, and even the maddening failures of leadership in response, is a lesson -- for our kids, and for ourselves -- of something that’s deeply true about the greatest suffering and most difficult challenges: often times, in the face of questions that don’t have good answers, working together in solidarity is the best thing we can do.
In this email:
Updates and Resources
Updates and Resources:
Sunday, August 2 from 1:30 - 5 PM: Census March for Racial Justice. RSVP here [[link removed]] .
I’m joining State Senator Zellnor Myrie and others for a racial justice march to remind Brooklynites to fill out the Census and make sure all of our communities get counted. We will march from hard-to-count neighborhoods (the march has two kick-off locations, one in Sunset Park and one in Brownsville) that are behind in the census count to rally at Grand Army Plaza at 3:30 PM for a full count in Brooklyn.
Thursday, August 6 at 7 PM: Mobilizing Our Communities for Outdoor Space for Schools Townhall. Register here [[link removed]] .
Join us to connect with parents, teachers, and advocates to organize for schools to be able to use more outdoor space and share creative ideas and resources for outdoor learning already being developed in schools around the city.
Lander for NYC
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