Anger and frustration are growing among the parents of students who are now left in remote learning limbo after the city hit a seven-day average COVID-19 positivity rate of three percent, which triggered the closure of public schools on Wednesday.
A group of parents even gathered outside City Hall Thursday to rally against the school closings and to direct their frustrations at Mayor Bill de Blasio — who has upset these parents by sticking to the stringent 3 percent threshold and for not having a plan once the city reached that threshold.
“It just seems like such a monumental failure of leadership again,” said Megan Malvern, a downtown Manhattan parent of two boys. “He’s wholly unaccountable because he’s a lame duck mayor and one of the most disliked politicians that’s ever graced New York City politics.”
Malvern said her children have been really well served by getting some time in the classroom the last two months with their teachers and classmates. Last week, Malvern said, her youngest son, who attends Peck Slip School in the Seaport, started building a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge with his class as part of a lesson about the science of suspension bridges — a project he was really excited about.
“My kid really learns hands on. They just started this last week, and he came home and talked about it for the entire day — the one day he went into school,” said Malvern. “And now it’s going to sit there unfinished.”
The case is surely the same for many other children across the city, who are now facing what could be weeks or months without any in-person instruction. And with experts predicting the current rise in cases to increase as families gather for holiday celebrations, the prospect of reopening schools again this term is not a certain outcome.
“Realities are Changing Everyday”
As of Friday, the mayor did not offer a clear way forward, but promised he would announce a plan in coming days.
When asked why he had no such plan in place for the eventuality that schools would have to close, de Blasio said his administration had not wanted to focus on “what ifs” and that it was difficult to make plans when the “realities are changing everyday.”
The mayor did say that any plan would rely on increased testing of students and school faculty. He also urged parents to turn in consent forms to allow their children to be tested at school. Only 117,000 of the about 280,000 students have consented to being tested, which has put an asterisk on the low in-school positivity rate of .19 percent since only a fraction of students who have attended school have been tested for the virus.
Still, the seemingly low positivity rate inside schools has been a key statistic for the mayor, who had been hailing in-person learning as “incredibly safe” and an overall success. Since the growing number of cases around the city doesn’t seem to be affecting the schools, parents are stumped by the mayor’s decision to close the schools, especially as gyms and indoor dining remain open.
“The schools are killing it,” Malvern said. “Both of my kids were tested at two different schools within a week of each other, and we had the results the next day. They’re doing an exceptional job and they should have been rewarded by still getting to go to school.”
La Keesha Taylor, a mother of two sons on the Upper East Side, said she was angered by the decision to close schools before restrictions were placed on other activities thought to be a source of spread.
“People continue to eat inside of restaurants. People continue to go to bars,” said Taylor. “These are the hot spots. These are the places that are causing the numbers to rise.”
In this instance, the mayor has said it is a case of when and not if restaurants and gyms will once again be shut down in an effort to flatten the curve. But he has deferred this decision to the state, which has been operating on a separate set of data. On the state’s timeline, the mayor said, these restrictions will likely come into play by the first week of December.
For Taylor’s family, remote learning has not been a successful mode of education. Her youngest son receives services at school and has difficulty staying focused during Zoom calls. She said she has to monitor both boys during their class work so she can ensure they’re paying attention, which she said has come at a cost at her own productivity.
“I think elementary students should just be in school and they should have figured out a way,” said Taylor.
While the city has been touting its Learning Bridges program, which provides free childcare to students on they day they’re scheduled for remote learning, Taylor said she can’t utilize it because they assigned her son a spot at a location too far uptown even though there’s a Learning Bridge at her own NYCHA development.
“There is a site right downstairs at my development, but I have to go to 119th Street? It makes no sense whatsoever,” Taylor said.
With the way decisions have been made, Taylor said she does not have confidence that things will get better in the months to come.
“It’s chaos, and it’s been chaos since the beginning of the school year,” she said. “But this is just the beginning.”
“People continue to eat inside of restaurants. People continue to go to bars.These are the hot spots. These are the places that are causing the numbers to rise.” La Keesha Taylor, mother of two sons on the Upper East Side