Bronx teachers apprehensive about returning to school in the fall

History teacher Dan Gannon who is against the mayor's plan to reopen schools.
Courtesy of Dan Gannon

When COVID-19 began, the mayor and the governor couldn’t agree on when to close schools. Months later, the elected officials are now in disagreement about when schools should reopen.

Today, the mayor announced  plans to have “blended learning” this fall with remote and in-person classes, but Cuomo said no decision will be made until the first week of August and is against President Donald Trump pressuring him to reopen.

However, Bronx teachers feel that going back in two months is not the right decision. Dan Gannon and Christine Montera, history teachers in the south Bronx, spoke with the Bronx Times about this pressing issue.

Montera, who has taught for 10 years at the East Bronx Academy on Southern Boulevard, feels it’s still not safe to begin in-person learning.

“I disagree with the mayor,” she said. “This whole pandemic has been them bickering. Schools can’t be the community center that takes care of car poverty, hunger, babysitting and learning.”

If the schools are open at all it will be a logistical nightmare, she said. She questioned the logistics of social distancing for students and staff and wondered whether they would sit in one classroom for six hours a day. Additionally, people would have to make sure everyone wears a mask and has their temperature taken. It will feel like education is the least of the concerns.

Now that the majority of the kids have laptops from the city or their schools, she said that the city could just continue with remote learning. By now, most teachers and students have gotten the hang of it and the hope is, it can be successful in the fall, Montera said.

“Who will be in the building, who won’t be?” she wondered. “We’re concerned about spreading the virus. It feels like smoke and mirrors to figure out how to get kids and adults back into buildings.”

Instead of sending people back to school, even if it is one or two day a week, she stressed that the Department of Education should be looking at ways to improve remote learning.

She told the Bronx Times the DOE  sent out a survey asking what the teachers needed to make their classrooms safe. She could not believe this was a question.

History teacher Christine Montera, who is against the mayor’s plan to reopen schools. Courtesy of Christine Montera

“I’m sorry, my job is teaching, not disinfecting,” she said. “This seems to be a pattern with the DOE. It’s almost disrespectful to be doing that.”

She added that the city needed to figure out if there are students that still don’t have laptops.

“How do we get kids devices?” Montera asked. “How do we set kids up with the skills they need? Teachers have to prepare to do remote learning in a way that works.”

Gannon, who has been a teacher for 10 years at Bronx Leadership Academy in Mott Haven, said he is confused as to why the governor and mayor can’t agree on anything.

He explained that planning for the next school year does not happen overnight. In actuality, it begins in April. Yet, on July 8, educators and parents were left in limbo and that is not right.

“It [preparing for the school year] takes a lot of time and effort,” he explained.

Gannon feels if people go back to school on a limited basis, the staff and parents would be at risk. He agreed with Montera and wants to stick with virtual learning for now.

The Bronx was the epicenter for COVID-19 deaths and 10 of his students had family members that died from it. Furthermore, if people can’t eat inside restaurants, he said that it would probably not be safe to return to school.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me that New York is going to have students back in the classroom,” he said.

There are also the academic issues. Many kids were passed last school year and the question is whether or not they are prepared for the next grade. If students need to be held back, he questioned how they will fit into classrooms with younger kids if people are supposed to socially distance.

Ultimately, the DOE, United Federation of Teachers, the mayor and governor need to work something out, Gannon said.

“I just feel like they’re trying to put a square peg in a hole,” he said. “If I was a parent and I had to send my kids to a high school in the Bronx right now I would want documentation on how this will work.”

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