By Jill Marshall, single parent of two elementary school kids in Greenwood Heights
Like most parents these days, I’ve acquired a myriad of new day jobs on top of the already crowded plate I balanced carefully before COVID-19 barreled into our lives last spring. I am now the administrator of a one-room elementary school/full-time day care center that I manage out of my small two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn building. I have a second grader and a fifth grader, a spotty internet connection, a window that leaks when the rain hits just right and downstairs neighbors I have avoided eye contact with for the past five months.
Last spring, when faced with the dire consequences of COVID-19, I supported all of the shelter-in-place orders, including school closings, and was eager to do my part to help flatten the curve to stop the spread of this terrifying virus. At home, I spent my mornings guiding my kids through their daily assignments, navigating crying fits and tantrums, while making sure I was logged on to my long day of zoom calls addressing the unprecedented challenges at my full-time job managing a performance venue (remember live performances?).
I learned to angle the webcam just so in order to appear calm, composed and focused – while just out of the camera’s frame, my two boys bounced around behind me: bored, anxious and full of demands. I mastered the art of multitasking – dishing out WIFI passwords or muting myself on zoom to troubleshoot issues with my son’s ROBLOX account to keep him from going totally nuclear. And yes, my children play video games sometimes more than five hours a day – because on top of all of this, I am a single mom.
I tell you this not to gain sympathy – because we are all in our proverbial sinking boat right now no matter what our circumstances are – I tell you this to impress how desperately I and my children want and need schools to open on September 10th.
As time went on and we realized the pandemic would not fade fast, my job changed from managing a performance venue to planning for how and when we could reopen safely. Our team works daily interacting with medical professionals, city and state representatives, engineers, peer groups as well as studying reports to better understand how to be in a room with people again. I know, firsthand, the amount of research, reflection and deliberation that goes into these decisions.
Over the past months, I have also been simply trying to keep my head above water, navigating work, my bank account, my children’s schooling, and our separate emotional and mental breakdowns. I’ve attended online town halls about school openings mostly half listening while putting the kids to bed or finishing my own work. When I heard that NYC schools were opening in the fall, and that NY State’s infection rate was hovering near 1%, I was optimistic that my kids could return to school safely.
That was, until Monday when I read a letter signed by most of the Principals in Brooklyn’s District 15 letting the Governor, the Mayor and the School Chancellor know that they did not feel ready to open on September 10th. They stated clearly the steps that would need to be taken before they felt prepared to safely open the school doors. Within days, District 13 Principals sent a similar letter, and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators did as well.
These letters made my heart sink. I needed to trust that the DOE, the Mayor and Chancellor were doing the right things, collaborating with Principals and Administrators to deliver a safe environment for our children, teachers and school staff. I needed to do that because my brain, life, inbox and home are just too full and too uncertain right now. So I did. I trusted that everything would be worked out by the time my kids entered back into the school building on the first day. So this letter hit pretty hard.
The feat in front of the Mayor, Chancellor, and the DOE to reopen schools is arduous and filled with many steps. Yet the voices of our Principals and Administrators are ringing loudly. They are telling us clearly that they don’t feel safe opening on September 10th. This is significant and consequential.
Their concerns have given me great pause. And pausing is exactly where I am at.
The letters are not saying that we can’t reopen at all. They are asking for the Mayor to make sure a list of items are checked off before marching teachers and children back into school buildings. A pause, or an intermission. Their requests are reasonable and within reach: proper staff training, start the year off remote, blend in hybrid learning, ensure that building councils meet with custodial engineers. They are asking that their concerns for the children and staff are addressed. These are the people who know their buildings intimately. They need to reset their stages for a successful act.
I think as parents, no matter how tired and desperate we are, we need to stand by them. I stand by them. I am not in favor of going 100% remote this year. I am hopeful we can safely reopen on the timeline that the letter outlines with the support of the city and state.
I have created a petition on Change.org that currently has over 2,000 signatures and looking to get as much parental support as possible. The task of re-opening during a pandemic is a challenge we as New Yorkers haven’t faced in over a hundred years. Let’s all support the wonderful and hardworking administrators and beautiful caring teachers of our schools and sign on to give them just a little more time. Will you stand by them too?