‘Please Reopen Our Schools’: Parents & Local Pols Call On City To Open 16 Yellow Zone Schools

Gounardes speaking at the rally calling for the reopening of 16 schools. (Photo via Gounardes’ office)

SOUTHERN BROOKLYN – Parents and elected officials are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYC Department of Education (DOE) to re-open the 16 schools in the ‘yellow zone’ that have been ordered shut for two weeks.

Last week de Blasio proposed a plan to impose new restrictions on all public and private schools and nonessential businesses in nine ZIP codes—in the areas where coronavirus numbers are still rising—for two weeks. Last Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered more schools in select “zones” across Brooklyn and Queens to shut down as well. “Cuomo’s plan has a wider scope than Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initial closure of about 300 private and public schools and about 100 childcare centers in nine ZIP codes with increasing COVID-19 rates. The additional school closures announced by the DOE will affect another 61 public school sites,” Gothamist reported.

“These rules will be in effect for 14 days,” Cuomo said at his press conference last week, “and then we’ll see where we are and we’ll see the numbers and we’ll adjust from there.”

The schools include those in red and orange zones. Schools located in the yellow zone are to remain open but are required to have mandatory weekly testings. But in the final list of schools that shut down, it includes 16 schools that are in the ‘yellow zone.’

These schools include P.S.682 the Academy of Talented Scholars, Brooklyn School of Inquiry, I.S. 096 Seth Low, P.S. 97 The Highlawn, I.S. 228 David A. Boody, John Dewey High School, P.S. 198 Brooklyn, P.S. 277 Gerritsen Beach, P.S. 201 The Discovery School for Inquiry and Research, P.S. 105 The Bay School, Ezra Jack Keats Pre-K Center at 83-30 Kew Gardens Road, P370K at PB70, P721K at John Dewey Hig School, P.S. K721 Brooklyn Occupational Training Center, Pathways to Graduation at John Dewey High School, and Pathways to Graduation at Youth Build Queens.

“A Cuomo administration official said that if city officials determine the 16 previously-closed schools in state yellow zones are unsafe, it’s within their rights to keep them closed,” the Daily News reported. But local politicians and parents are left wondering why these 16 schools are to remind closed when hundreds of other schools with the same health classifications are still open.

“Families with schools in the yellow zones have been caught in a back and forth between the Mayor and the Governor and are having their lives dictated not by reasons, facts or logic but by meaningless bureaucracy and power plays,” State Senator Andrew Gonardes said at a rally protesting school closures. “There is no good reason to have 16 public schools in the yellow zone closed while the other 308 schools in the yellow zone remain open with increased testing. We are calling on the Mayor and the DOE not to let bureaucracy stand in the way of our children’s education and re-open these yellow zone schools now.”

Sandy Chum Wu, a parent of a student at the Academy of Talented Scholars, believes parents should not have to accept these changes with “little to no clarity or reasoning.”

“Why has our campus been ordered to remain closed despite being in the yellow zone and having zero reported cases? We are asking leadership to consider the logistical, mental, and emotional challenges that this creates for families and school staff members,” she said at the press conference. “I cannot overstate the positive and restorative effect that in-person school has had on my children. And I cannot even describe the heartbreak of catching a glimpse of school staff in the lobby and seeing tears in their eyes and anguish in their throats as we all try to make sense of nonsense.”

The DOE told Bklyner, “Health and safety is at the center of everything we do, and in coordination with the State we closed 108 school sites Tuesday for a two-week period, as one part of a comprehensive plan to reduce transmission in specific geographic clusters. We need to provide consistency and clarity for families, and we are not abruptly backtracking on our assessment that closing these sites for two weeks would help stop the spread of COVID-19 in these areas.”

Council Member Justin Brannan says parents are furious and want to know why de Blasio and the DOE  “can’t follow their own rules.”

“Schools in yellow zones are supposed to remain open—unless the city says they can’t? What kind of plan is that? We need reasons, not rules,” he said. “If we’re going to keep our kids and teachers safe and prevent a second wave, now more than ever, we need clarity, consistency, and common sense. There is no reason why any schools public or private with rigorous testing standards and zero COVID cases should close and I will fight for them to stay open.”

At another rally outside P.S.130, Council Member Brad Lander and Assembly Member Robert Carroll, parents demanded the same thing. The school is located in the 11218 zip code, which is not according to city data, a COVID-19 hotspot. Carroll noted that the schools in the yellow zone do not meet any of the previously agreed-upon classifications for closing. “This closing only hurts students and parents, and does not provide any added benefit to the public.”

Lander iterated that he supports targetted, data-driven closures. “But arbitrary ones don’t help,” he said.

“In my class, there are only eight kids. Some have nine kids,” a little girl from P.S.130 named Zelda said at the rally. “We have social distancing in the classrooms and hand sanitizer all the time.”

According to Ayisha Choudry, whose child attends P.S.277, parents should get a heads-up before such a decision is made. She said living in a pandemic was already hard enough, and she feels the city and state are making it harder, she told Bklyner this afternoon.

“I understand why the city and state are taking precautions. But, my son’s school is not in the high alert red zone. Why are most of the yellow zone schools allowed to remain open, but not this one?” she asked. “This is confusing for us as parents, but also for the kids. Having to abruptly go from in-school classes to fully online for two weeks. And who knows what will happen after those two weeks. Please re-open our schools.”

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Zainab Iqbal

Zainab is a staff reporter at Bklyner who sometimes writes poetry in her free time || zainab@bklyner.com

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