AM Frontus, Parents, Students Ask for Remote Learning Option

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Assemblymemby Mathylde Frontus advocated for a remote option for public schools as COVID cases spread. Photo by MOrgan C. Mullings

New York City students returned to class just two weeks ago, and there are already over 6,000 COVID cases in students aged 5-17, and 680 cases in teachers and staff.

In light of this news, New York State Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus (D-Brooklyn) gathered a student, a teacher and a WHO [World Health Organization]-certified doctor in front of her Coney Island office on Sept. 28 to demand a remote learning option for all schools.

When asked if Mayor Bill de Blasio is moving too fast when it comes to school protocol, Frontus responded, “a little bit.” 

“We are asking for the option,” she said, adding that parents are extremely stressed by the situation.

The protocol of mask-wearing, social distancing, and getting vaccinated would need sufficient oversight to be enforced. Frontus says that isn’t happening.

 “We appreciate all of the steps that they’re taking. I’m not saying that it doesn’t count for anything, but this is extremely short-sighted. We need them to offer their remote learning options for parents who want to feel at ease,” Frontus said. 

Dr. Sima Karetnaya, a medical doctor and certified member of the Medical Expert Committee at the WHO, joined the assemblymember in support. “We’re not calling for a remote learning obligation,” she said, “Frequent COVID testing is dangerous.” 

Though Karetnaya confirmed that testing in itself as preventative medicine is very important, she has also seen patients who had the pituitary gland at the bridge of their nose injured by the swab required for the test. Weekly testing for NYC students resumed this week.

Karetnaya brought her daughter Stella, a fifth-grade student at a public school, who told reporters that social distancing and wearing masks isn’t always happening in her class.

Three students in her class, she said,  felt sick. “No one really knew if it was the coronavirus,” she said. Though she stayed home, they did not close the school or her class. 

A student-teacher, Nasim Almuntaser, said that his class has 30 students and that social distancing isn’t possible in his class. In the hallways, students are close together, and the ventilation in his room is broken. Every day, students and teachers fill out a form on the Department of Education website to indicate that they are well enough to attend. 

“People can lie on there [the form],” Almuntaser said. “The temperature checks in the classroom, no one is doing it.

Mayor de Blasio has been clear on his stance since the summer: There will not be a remote option. When asked on Sept. 28, his office responded that his opinion has not changed.

The mayor is also celebrating the success of his vaccine mandate for Department of Education workers, which recently held up in a federal appeals court. “That means that all the court challenges are now exhausted, and the Department of Education vaccine mandate will go into effect,” de Blasio said in a press conference the morning of Frontus’ event.

Teachers now have until 5 p.m. Friday to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or lose their jobs. 

Almuntaser says one of his colleagues, a teacher who has served the DOE for over 20 years, will be leaving because of the vaccine mandate. “She’s a force to be reckoned with, and it’s so sad,” he said.

Had that teacher gotten sick, she would have to quarantine for 10 days, and so would anyone who came in contact with her. One parent at the press conference has already missed work to quarantine with his entire family after his son, a high school sophomore in Coney Island, came in contact with someone who tested positive at school. 

“We asked for remote learning, we asked the city for help,” Evans Alcindor said. Instead, his son missed several days of school.