Principals To DOE: We Cannot Safely Reopen Schools For In Person Learning On September 10

Principals To DOE: We Cannot Safely Reopen Schools For In Person Learning On September 10
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Yesterday principals of 34 public schools in District 15, which covers Park Slope, Gowanus, Red Hook, and Carroll Gardens, sent a letter addressed to Mayor Bill De Blasio, Chancellor Richard Carranza, and Governor Andrew Cuomo outlining ‘grave concerns’ and asking for more time and answers to their questions.

“We are gravely concerned that the central response to opening has been piecemeal, and many of the most important questions about health and safety, space usage, academic policy, Special Education policy, and policy for Multilingual Learners still remain unanswered,” principals wrote.

They went on to outline the frustration with the Central office, and administration in general “The level of distrust of our city since the botched decision on school closures in March has not been healed or even addressed.”

Today Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), who represent 6,400 staff, followed up with a letter of their own, urging to delay reopening school for in person instruction, arguing that despite what the administration has been telling the public, schools will not be ready to reopen:

“While the city’s messaging suggests that reopening plans have been developed collaboratively with our union, the city has failed to address many of our crucial concerns and ignored repeated appeals from school leaders to allow enough time to implement highly complicated protocols. Since last school year ended, our members have been working tirelessly to reimagine the upcoming school year and pleading for more information on the City’s incomplete reopening plans. The slow rollout of guidance has forced us to once again address an unfortunate truth: schools will not be ready to open for in-person instruction on September 10th. A more realistic, phased-in approach would instead welcome students for in-person learning toward the end of September, following a fully remote start to the year, ” CSA President Mark F. Cannizzaro wrote.

“Additional time before the start of in-person learning would allow our system to answer basic, but vital questions. When will nurses be hired for schools currently in need? How will school communities be informed of repairs to ventilation systems? When will schools receive PPE, thermometers, signage, hand sanitizers and cleaning materials to comply with the safety protocols? What additional support will be given to communities if they have a higher positivity rate than the city standard? Will we have sufficient staff to schedule both in-person and remote teaching? Do our schools have sufficient bandwidth to support remote instruction? When will we receive proper guidance specific to our students with special needs?”

Given the lack of answers and an extremely tight timeline, principals are asking for more freedom and flexibility to open schools when and as their communities are ready. At this time, they do not have the answers they need to plan for reopening nor to execute without compromising health and safety of their school communities, school leaders said in the letters.

“New York City school leaders are among the most talented and creative in the world. They stand ready and willing to take on the immense responsibilities of reopening their school buildings this fall, but I implore you to not ignore their voices at this critical time in the lives of New Yorkers— commence in-person learning only when our school leaders are confident they can reopen school buildings safely and successfully, ” Cannizzaro pleaded.

“We desperately want to return to schools, we know that kids and parents need schools open and rely on us for critical services, but we cannot let that cloud our judgment and push for a hastily planned unsafe return that delivers a mediocre educational experience, ” District 15 principals wrote. “At this point, it is becoming abundantly clear that our schools cannot open safely and effectively on September 10th.”

If reopening school for some in-person instruction was to move forward, principals in District 15 asked for starting the year remotely, so they have enough time to set up protocols, and train staff on everything from safety to trauma-informed instruction, which is not possible with staff returning on September 8. The schools then should have the option of phasing in blended learning students from September 21st to October 18th.

“The UFT has said repeatedly that we cannot re-open schools unless they are safe for students and staff.  The principals union — whose members will be responsible for enforcing coronavirus safety protocols in the schools — now believes that school buildings will not be ready to open in September.

“We need both safety and sanity in this crisis,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers emailed in response to the two letters. “Will any parents be willing to put their children in a school whose principal believes the building is not ready to open because it is not safe?”

Mayor responds: