P.S. 169 Sunset Park School Equity Team’s Open Letter On School Reopening

P.S. 169 Sunset Park School Equity Team sent the following letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo
and Chancellor Richard Carranza Wednesday, August 19, outlining their concerns over plans to reopen schools.

The letter reads:

We are the P.S. 169, Sunset Park School Equity Team. We have worked collaboratively for the past two years to mobilize around issues of equity. The recent uptick of COVID-19 cases in Sunset Park has prompted us to speak out against the reopening of school buildings, and to call for a targeted testing plan that addresses the particular needs of our community.

Mayor de Blasio has said that city school buildings would not open if there is an average 3% test positivity rate over a span of a week. According to The City, a nonprofit and non-partisan digital news platform, since early August, Sunset Park has had a weekly positivity rate of 5%. Until all communities fall below the 3% threshold, the only equitable solution is for all school buildings to remain closed in New York City. Any other course of action would jeopardize the health and safety of already disenfranchised communities. Closing school buildings in Sunset Park alone would also be an inequitable solution, as it would create division between white students and students of color with regards to who receives instruction in school buildings and who learns remotely.

We want to qualify that we are not taking this request lightly. We want to return to our school building, meet our students, and get back to our classrooms. Our students need us now more than ever, and we are all too aware of the difficulties facing our families during this challenging time, in terms of collective trauma, food insecurity, and lack of quality health care.

During school building closures and throughout the summer, we have supported our families in a variety of ways. For example, our school community created a GoFundMe page to support our families dealing with food insecurity and raised over $30,000! Our teachers, school aides, and administrators worked hand in hand with South Brooklyn Mutual Aid to deliver over 300 boxes of food to P.S. 169 families. Our school kitchen has been the busiest hub in District 15 for Grab-and-Go meals. Our kitchen staff prepares an average of 5,000 Grab-and-Go meals every single day!

We understand how much our school means to the Sunset Park community. However, sending teachers and students back to our classrooms while there is such a high rate of infection is putting an already vulnerable community further at risk. We also know that the high positivity rate in our neighborhood is reflective of families’ reluctance to be tested, a reluctance borne of a history of distrust. As New York City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca has noted, the community “has been neglected for years by the mayor, and is now being underfunded by the council because of politics.” By reopening school buildings without proper precautions and measures, it is inevitable that communities like ours will, once again, suffer the most.

Our students and families have an increased risk of exposure to the virus. Many of our students are in overcrowded housing where multiple families share living spaces in multigenerational households. If students are exposed to COVID-19, they may spread it among their home community. A student may bring the virus home to their grandparents, who are their main caregivers while students’ parents are at work. If grandparents are exposed to COVID-19, families may lose food and home security as well as child care assistance. Many family members are also frontline workers who are not able to shelter in place, and by necessity often commute to jobs throughout the city. As reflected in the New York City Comptroller’s data report on frontline workers (link here), 28% of the city’s frontline workers live in Brooklyn, with between 10,000 and 15,000 in Sunset Park.

Our families understand their vulnerabilities all too well and have communicated their legitimate fears very clearly: at present, 70% of our families have chosen remote over blended learning—well above the citywide average. This statistic comes from our survey results, but it is also important to note that we did quite a bit of direct outreach to families who did not complete the survey in order to learn their preferences. Staff volunteers at our school are still in the process of calling each family, so the number of families opting into remote-only is likely to change over time.

The principals of District 15 have already issued a letter (link here) calling for appropriate safety protocols to be in place before the reopening of school buildings. In addition to their requests, which we fully support, we are demanding school buildings remain closed until every neighborhood in New York City falls under the 3% test positivity rate threshold. We also call for an ongoing and targeted testing plan that addresses any reluctance to testing due to language barriers, lack of information, or fear of visa or citizenship status. Without taking these critical steps, the city cannot move forward with a safe reopening. We entreat Mayor de Blasio to heed the advice of the educators, nurses, parents, and community members who are calling for these crucial measures.

With Urgency,

P.S. 169, Sunset Park School Equity Team

Lindsey Yang, Kindergarten Dual Language Teacher
Raysa Villalona, ENL Teacher
Jeannette Echeverri, Third Grade Dual Language Teacher/D15 Parent
Jeannine Mele, Universal Literacy Reading Coach
Jamie Fidler, Assistant Principal & District 15 parent
Emily Hurst, Assistant Principal
Mary De Jesus, Second Grade Dual Language Teacher
Jamie Chen, Fifth Grade Special Education Teacher
Rosanna Polito, Fifth Grade General Education Teacher
Helen Jahan, Fourth Grade English as a New Language Teacher
Gina Verga, English as a New Language Teacher
Cheryl Wong, Parent Coordinator
Barbara Morales, Fifth Grade Literacy Teacher
Lisa McGuigan, Third Grade General Education Teacher
Men-chun Lee, Kindergarten Dual Language Teacher
Jennifer Chubak, First Grade Dual Language Teacher
Yaritsa Rodriguez, Fifth Grade ICT Teacher
Carlos Echeverri, Educational Assistant/D15 Parent
Andrew Race, Kindergarten Special Education Teacher
Chunyun Xu, Bilingual Education Teacher
Sarah Brooks, Kindergarten ICT Teacher
Joanna Cohen, Assistant Principal
Christine Vient, Special Education Teacher
Pedro Calixto, Fifth Grade Bilingual Education Teacher
Laetitia Done, School Secretary
Additional Signatures of Support (Name, Title, Affiliation)
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