BY PRESS NYC: PARENTS FOR RESPONSIVE, EQUITABLE, SAFE SCHOOLS
A day after a 7-hour City Council Education Committee hearing where, as at the August 19th PEP, students, parents, and educators spoke out in unity against the reopening of school buildings, it’s becoming ever clearer that Mayor de Blasio and UFT President Michael Mulgrew are living in a different reality from the rest of us, whose daily lives are so profoundly impacted by Tuesday’s news of their closed-door deal to delay school reopening by eleven days.
In our reality, there’s an ongoing pandemic caused by a ruthless virus with no vaccine or cure, spreading so efficiently it has infected over 25 million people and ended 850,902 lives worldwide in just 9 months.
In our reality, where 23,703 of those deaths were New Yorkers, 79 of them DOE employees, keeping schools closed served as a primary difference between a City overwhelmed with COVID-related infections and deaths, and a City with any hope of staying healthy.
In our reality, Mulgrew’s deal with de Blasio is actually worse than the previous plan – because it not only fails to solve the original problems, it also erases teachers’ power to demand a safe, equitable reopening centering human lives and communities.
What’s more, this deal doesn’t address the health and safety issues many school communities experienced pre-COVID: lead in pipes, poor ventilation, overcrowded spaces, and deficient resources. What is the point of negotiating if schools will only be as unsafe as before? Gentlemen, read the room: Normal won’t fly.
This agreement rests on the mayor’s unproven premise that sending children into school buildings once or twice a week means the difference between learning and languishing next year. But a classroom where 5-year-olds cannot play with friends or hug a teacher, where adolescents sit in one room at the same desk all day without socializing, does not strike us as optimal for learning. We have no basis to compare last Spring’s remote crisis schooling to the unknowns of masked, socially distant, and frankly dystopian in-person schooling, or better planned remote instruction.
Despite every student learning remotely all or some of the time, online learning has been ignored. Instead of working to improve language access or connectivity, the city devoted all its attention to the Rubik’s Cube of hybrid schedules, and the UFT narrowly focused on 3 safety points members never approved.
The City had an opportunity to demonstrate, beyond painting a phrase along 5th Avenue, that the lives of all its children matter—Black, Latinx, immigrant, those with learning differences or living in temporary housing. Instead, without reaching out to the people directly impacted, an agreement was drafted that created a safe political win for the UFT and City Hall. A fixation on insufficient safety measures left a gaslit void where parents craved honest support.
It is unnerving, in 2020, to witness two white men with power deciding the fates of hundreds of thousands of diverse children, educators, and families with utter disregard for their lives. The UFT’s outdated, siloed view of a teacher’s union treats solidarity among stakeholders as expendable, when COVID has demonstrated precisely how interconnected we all are.
While safety measures must be clearly spelled out, ignoring this opportunity to address systemic inequities sends a damning message: our leaders know they have not been providing our families with the schools they deserve, they know our educators have made do with scarce resources, and they’re okay with it.
To protect us from another spike, the City must gather all stakeholders to co-create the education system our children deserve. Our governor could make funding schools a priority. Our mayor could listen, and use his platform to meet real needs. The teachers’ union could stand up for a health justice agenda in schools.
Instead, Mulgrew flexes his muscles in the ring against DeBlasio, with Cuomo pretending to referee, so they can all declare a tie while the whole city loses. Our schools remain unsafe, and our institutions remain unjust. Our leaders have failed us.
In our reality, it will never be worth losing a single life to open school buildings so that students can have developmentally inappropriate, pedagogically questionable in-building instruction twice a week, while their parents still scramble for childcare. Parents and teachers will continue to advocate for remote learning, with some exceptions, until it’s truly safe.
PRESS NYC (Parents for Responsive Equitable Safe Schools) is a diverse coalition of parents committed to making sure the mayor, chancellor, and other public school decision makers embrace the transformational potential of this moment & keep the conversation based in reality. We expect the DOE to be responsive to the communities it serves, centered on equity, & grounded in health & safety. Follow PRESS NYC @safeschoolsny on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. To join PRESS NYC, sign up here.