De Blasio Pulls Plug on School Opening Again

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability. City Hall. Thursday, September 17, 2020. Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

“School’s out for summer” –– still.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement Thursday that he’d delayed the start of in-person learning for a second time to give the city’s public school system more time to prepare to reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic and to address inadequate staffing caused by the mixed hybrid and remote learning options was met with mixed reactions from local and state elected officials.

While the electeds had been pushing for a delay and praised the decision, they said that de Blasio’s hesitancy created confusion amongst teachers and parents, and sowed mistrust with the administration’s ability to safely reopen schools. The focus on reopening in-person schooling is detrimental to the health and safety of students, teachers, and the city, they said. 

“It’s obvious that in-person schooling needed to be delayed – it has been, as we have said, for months – and it’s just as obvious that the mayor’s so-called strategy of bringing us to the brink over and over is misguided and detrimental,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Councilmember Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Council’s Committee on Education in a joint statement. “The insistence on reopening as soon as possible, at any cost, is a strategy doomed to keep students and parents, teachers and administrators on the line only to pull a bait and switch again and again. The city needs time to increase staff, yes- but without also increasing safety measures, we will only see cases rise and time and lives lost.”

The administration had time to prepare for what will be an unprecedented school year during a global pandemic and that time was wasted, they said. 

“We didn’t do our homework so to speak –– pun intended,” said City Councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D-Queens) who attended a rally outside of Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside in support of delaying the school year just hours before the mayor’s announcement. “I guess it finally dawned on the mayor and the chancellor that they weren’t going to be ready on Monday.”

The mayor’s announcement came just days before the city’s public schools were supposed to begin in-person schooling for students enrolled in hybrid learning. 

New York City has approximately one million students, 600,000 of which opted into the blended learning program. 

“No one’s ever tried to do this here in this country on this scale. It’s just never been done before. Just like going to all remote in March was unprecedented, creating a blended learning approach while still in a pandemic, but serving people and helping to bring back our city, that’s unprecedented. It’s incredibly complex, but it can be done and it will be done,” said de Blasio in a press availability on Thursday. 

Remote learning began early this week but in-person learning for blended learning students wasn’t supposed to start until September 21. Now, in-person learning will roll out in phases with the city’s youngest pupils in the 3-K and Pre-K programs as well as those in special education programs starting on September 21. Schools with kindergarten through fifth grade and kindergarten through eighth grade will start on September 29 while middle and high schools, transfer schools and adult education won’t begin until October 1. 

The public school system will use the time to hire 4,500 more teachers to adequately staff the city’s many virtual and in-person classrooms this year. They will also make sure the school buildings are properly equipped for social distancing and sanitization and that test and trace procedures are in place to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“Our buildings must be ready, and testing and tracing procedures must be in place. A phased re-opening — and making sure, despite budget challenges, that we have enough staff — can help ensure that safety,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

This is the second delay to the start of the school year. It was originally supposed to start on September 10 but was delayed by ten days when the teacher’s union threatened to strike. Lawmakers were critical of the first postponement which they said came too late and wasn’t long enough. The city only has one chance to get it right, they said. 

State Senator Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan), who signed onto a letter to the mayor spearheaded by State Senator John Liu (D-Queens), Chair of the Senate’s NYC Education Committee, urging city to focus on ongoing inequities in access to remote learning, said that the city can’t forget about remote learning in the following weeks. 

The city needs to be ready to delay again if needed, and to do so, it needs to make sure that all students have access to remote education, he said. 

“I have yet to see the focus on delivering true equity in remote learning, especially as more and more parents are opting for their children to be fully remote,” he said. “That has to happen before schools reopen physically, and if a further delay is needed, then so be it.”

City Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) echoed Jackson’s statement. The administration needed to acknowledge that it wasn’t ready to open schools and that while remote learning isn’t ideal, it’s the best option right now until schools can reopen safely, he said. 

Parents, students and teachers are justified in being furious at the situation, Brannan said. They’ve been making noise about the start of school all summer but the mayor and the Department of Education didn’t listen, he said. 

“To all our parents, students, and teachers, on behalf of a Mayor and a DOE that will not apologize: you should not be dealing with this. This is a disgrace. Hang in there. I am with you,” he said.

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