Close The Schools! Brooklyn Tech Teacher On The Reasons Why

By Anastasia Amanda Visbal / NYC educator, Brooklyn Tech High School

brooklyn technical high school in fort greene
Brooklyn Tech, Photo by BKLYNER

By Anastasia Amanda Visbal / NYC educator, Brooklyn Tech High School

All New York City public schools should close today.

That is the best decision that the Honorable Mayor Bill De Blasio can make for the people of New York. Top medical officials recommend social distancing as the number one strategy to prevent the spread of COVID -19 which is now a pandemic. Yet, we continue to gather in huge groups in dirty school buildings across NYC. At my school, approximately 7,000 people, including students, faculty, support staff, security, and all other visitors, walk daily through its doors, bringing with them germs from the five boroughs and beyond. Dangerously unsanitary conditions have existed at the school for decades, but similar conditions exist system wide at other schools.

While leaders contemplate action, teachers have become drafted soldiers in the front lines of a war against a raging, silent and invisible enemy. Last week we were armed with a bottle of purell and a 35 count of disinfectant wipes and we marched off into the combat zone to wait for a call to battle that never came. We were unsure what to do with these grossly inadequate supplies as each of our classrooms is packed to the gills with 34 desks and we face 170 students daily in very close proximity. Generally, the school has been slow to respond. The school’s daily announcements, which are online and heard over the PA during 3rd-period classes, have still to include hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and proper cleaning and disinfectant procedures of personal areas like desks, computers, and other spaces.

Because of severe overcrowding conditions, we must immediately vacate classrooms when not teaching, then walk shoulder to shoulder with 6,100 students through hallways, stairwells, and elevators, only to go into a designated department office that’s shared with 30-40 people. With no teachers’ break room, cafeteria, or lounge, we eat and work together at large tables with clicking laptops and stacks of student homework, essays, exit tickets, and other assignments – paper that goes back and forth through many hands and has great potential for the spread of this aggressive disease. I have often seen a teacher take a bite of a sandwich or a spoonful of soup and then grab the pen and mark another paragraph of a student essay.

Other school practices and protocols promote the spread of the Coronavirus. For example, as employees enter, after touching surfaces on the bus, the train, the rails, or the uber, they move their card from one wooden time-card closet to the other. Hundreds of people open and close these ancient structures to complete the morning time card routine. Most teachers pick up an attendance folder after that and start the trek up to their classrooms, touching elevator buttons, handrails, and doorknobs along the way. Many first period teachers walk directly into their classrooms after their commute while others to copy machines to get ready for class and prepare handouts for students. Again, routines that perpetuate germ transmission.

To make matters worse for the school community, life proceeds as usual. The recent soft lock-down drill went on as scheduled. Everybody dutifully followed orders, but many voiced deep concerns about students huddling together on the floor of their classrooms and adults walking from door to door checking doorknobs! One administrator even announced that spring teacher observations would begin the week of March 16. Administrators expect to see teachers actively walking around the classroom, asking dynamic questions and students in robust discussions – exactly the behaviors we’re supposed to avoid at this time. This observation cycle is the second of two “pop quizzes” that determine a teacher’s yearly evaluation grade. No pressure teachers.

Other examples of germ hotspots abound on computers, water fountains, cafeteria buffets and tables, swinging doors, student ID’s, and especially bathrooms. But what I describe is only a partial picture of a vicious germ cycle within a diverse group of people whose social webs extend to thousands and thousands of people. Today, open schools unnecessarily put many New Yorkers at risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Look at outbreaks in Italy, China, Iran, Korea and Japan to understand the sobering facts and devastation.  It makes sense to close schools now, disinfect them thoroughly and re-open sometime after spring break. I know there are concerns about the safety and services we provide to millions of children but leaving them open is even more dangerous as the invisible enemy rages on.

By Anastasia Amanda Visbal / NYC educator, Brooklyn Tech High School

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  1. In addition to the mere logistics of Covid infection, students are crying in class because they are afraid of being targeted on their way home, bringing the disease to their siblings with autoimmune disease and parents with underlying disease. This is not about protecting our students but maintaining status quo where as Cuomo stated “wealthier” districts can afford to close but not the city. Flint, Michigan sounds awfully familiar.

  2. As a parent of a BTHS student, I couldn’t agree more. I would add that my son was doing “partner exercises” in gym class last Thursday! I’m most confounded by the infrequent and uninformative emails from school administrators. There is no change in protocol and no reassurances of any kind. I’m keeping my child home indefinitely. I hope every teacher who wants to does the same.

  3. I totally agree with everything you mentioned. The Mayor seems to be focused on loosing healthcare workers who are parents and would have to stay home if the Public Schools are closed. He also mentions that many of the children depend on the Breakfast and Lunches the schools provide. Well, this situation is extremely devastating to our children and families. He’s more concerned about how the parents will manage. When parents have children, they should be held responsible for feeding them and having a plan B for childcare. It’s not fair to the responsible parents! I refuse to send my son into such dangerous conditions. It’s my responsibility to keep my son and my 86 year old mother who has COPD safe. Therefore, I will not continue to wait on the Mayor’s decision. It’s ridiculous! He won’t be able to replace my family; therefore, I will do whatever I have to do to keep them safe and healthy. We have too much to loose!

  4. I don’t quite understand why our kids are still being exposed to this virus by going to school. I get the rational behind the decision but this is my take on this issue. During the summer months while school is out free meals are still available to our students and the same parents whom our elected officials are making excuses for find adequate childcare for our kids. If social distancing is what is being recommended to contain the spread of this virus, then why are we still using the excuse that parents may not have adequate childcare and the ability to provide healthy meals for the kids. Why can’t we do what we do during the summer months and provide the free meals. We are asking companies to cut back on their staff working in offices and set up remote capabilities so that we lessen the chances of the virus spreading . It takes a village to raise a child, now is the time when the village needs to come together for the safety of our young kids. Please Mr. Governor and Mayor let’s respect the advise of our medical experts and act now before we start reacting to hundreds of hot spots that we could avoid.
    Rev. C

  5. We’ll written Anastasia Vishal. You put it in perspective. It’s past time to close the schools for the health and safety of every individual involved.

  6. We as a people are no longer allowed to think for ourselves. The government knows better. Six weeks after 9/11 the postal facility I worked in had anthrax. The CDC came in with sealed outfits and went through decontamination at the end of their shift. Postal employees were given face masks and latex gloves

  7. So persuasive! I remember how crowded and unsanitary things can get with so many students and staff members on the move. Confined to the department office when your classroom is empty? Yikes! We can all only hope that this situation will force a lot of re-thinking about how we go about our daily lives. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Bravo.

  8. 3/17

    Now Brooklyn Tech has two confirmed cases on the faculty and still teachers are being asked to come to school for training on the approach remote learning that will roll out next week. Training that can easily be conducted remotely with teachers at home, safe from infection and transmission.

    The DOE and BTHS leadership are displaying not only stupidity but also criminal negligence. David Newman needs to grow a spine and take some obvious decisive steps to leading the school through this pandemic. Or step aside for someone who will.

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