New York, NY – After insisting that schools reopen for hybrid learning shortly after Labor Day, it took the threat of a teacher’s strike to convince Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay in-person classes — but he only delayed them for 10 days to Sept. 21.
That choice left both parents and teachers more confused, with the former wondering about childcare and the latter criticizing the pushed back timeline as not practical enough to address the problems at hand with reopening during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
On Sept. 17, the mayor decided to go with a more staggered reopening plan based on age groups and special needs. The city’s 1.1 million public school students were slated for hybrid in-person classes starting Sept. 21, with daycare children, pre-school students and District 75 special need students, according to the DOE.
Students in kindergarten to elementary and K-8 academies will have in-person hybrid lessons starting Sept. 29, according to the DOE. Middle schools, high schools, secondary schools (6 to 12), transfer and adult education students will have hybrid in-person classes beginning Oct. 1.
Seth Rosenberg, a subway operator and member of TWU Local 100, has decided his 5-year-old daughter will only be participating in remote-only classes. Despite declining Coronavirus cases across the city, Rosenberg anticipates a second wave of COVID-19 is on the way.
Rosenberg is also a member of “Local 100 Fightback,” a group consisting of social justice activists from the transit union who are dedicated to democratizing the workplace. The group participated in the School Solidarity Campaign, which brought about the potential teachers strike earlier this month.
“A hundred and thirty transit workers have died,” said Rosenberg, a nearly a 15-year veteran of the MTA. “I strongly believe that schools have to be remote-only for quite a while.”
While Rosenberg works in a small space and potentially risks being exposed to the virus daily, his wife, a paralegal is juggling her career from home and helping their daughter navigate online classes.
“All the experts predict there is going to be a second wave,” Rosenberg said. “It’s going to be impossible for New York to avoid it. And as an essential worker, who other than healthcare workers, I’m in one of the most exposed environments underground, the idea that we will reopen the schools and the universities…that gives a stronger opportunity for the virus to come back.”
Many of Rosenberg’s subway passengers are students. He is already concerned for his personal safety as more and more schools and businesses open up.
“Mass in-person education will have a major impact on my life, my friends’ lives and my co-workers lives,” Rosenberg said. “That is why I’m a part of these coalitions and protests supporting teachers.”
On Sept. 10, approximately 40,000 college students were diagnosed with COVID-19.
As the school season goes forward, Rosenberg expects see less social distancing, especially as more educational institutions open up.
“The [motorman’s] cab is not isolated from passengers or air-sealed,” Rosenberg said. “We sometimes get some outside air from where the passengers are. There is a vent. I’m pushing for the cab to be isolated so that no one else is in it or [we] keep it six-feet away from passengers instead of just putting up cute little fliers that say, ‘keep a safe social distance from the train crew staff.'”
Both the London and Paris subway systems have better safety protocols that keep train crews a safe distance from passengers, according to Rosenberg. Locally, the Long Island Railroad and MetroNorth do, too, he said.
“We [MTA] have nothing,” said Rosenberg. “The idea of more people on the subway cars is terrifying.”
Jazmin del Valle, a stay-at-home mom married to another transit worker, has two children under the age of 10 who are struggling with chaotic school scheduling.
Del Valle’s daughter is not yet 3-years-old, and her 7-year-old son has high-functioning autism. Neither child is independent enough to participate in lessons without her help.
“I have to be next to him every step of the way,” said Del Valle. “The two-and-half-year-old is also doing remote learning with the Children’s Aid.”
Del Valle’s children were initially going to go to classes during the first week of September. Instead, they started classes on Monday. Del Valle’s son was a part of NEST, which aids children with special needs and offers occupational, physical and speech therapy classes. But with the last minute changes to the school schedule, he has only received core lessons from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Del Valle’s daughter would have had lessons from home, but that would require an in-person teacher.
Del Valle is now trying to learn when to schedule tele-therapy lessons. Her son and daughter will have remote classes twice a week until January, with 40-minutes for one-on-one lessons on Mondays, as well as online socialization with other children on Thursdays. Her daughter’s lessons begin at 10 a.m. Del Valle gets 15-minute breaks in-between her son’s core classes.
“I’m literally there for every step of the way,” Del Valle said.
Both the mayor and schools chancellor have left one District 2 teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, exasperated.
“Public school experts have called for a delay to in-person classes since July,” the teacher said. “The mayor is trying to push through this reopening plan that keeps getting pushed back and diluted. It’s meeting nobody’s needs. It is creating an incredible strain on teachers and an incredibly strain on families. His removal from both those realities is stark.”
The changes now mean there will be more remote students for teachers to handle. According to the teacher, the DOE has put more planning behind the in-person classes than they did for the remote classes, or the fully-remote classes, according to the teacher.
“Students had to suddenly change teachers because of staffing constraints,” the teacher added. “This is all because of poor communication and complete blindness to facts and opinions that have been public since the summer.”
This same teacher has been afraid and confused since March, due to a lack of clear information on how to go forward with the current sea change of online learning.
“As a teacher, I have to stand in front of 30 students who are more confused because classmates are not coming to school, whose family members are sick, where it is life and death. And it is as if the leadership from the city, the mayor, the chancellor – they were just removed from it as if everything was hunky-dory,” the teacher said. “That mood and that attitude have persisted until today.”
Getting children back into classrooms was the main priority, but children in classrooms are the minority and there was no game plan for that possibility, according to this same teacher.
“The students who are home for their safety are being treated like second-class students,” the teacher said. “This perpetuates the segregation in our schools and in this city as the most segregated in the country.”
The educator further stated, “I had no guidance for remote learning other than from my own colleagues. I had to come up with a plan on Sunday to see all my students remotely.”
To this teacher, the rollout for reopening New York City’s Public Schools feels like a horror show.
“I’m grateful for the mayor’s emphasis on social and emotional learning, but there is no social or emotional concern,” he said.