NYC school reopening plan remains on track despite union push back

Classrooms across Long Island were empty on Thursday. Check our listings of delayed openings, closures and cancellations to see what's in store for Friday. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech

New York City’s school reopening plan is moving ahead despite principal, teacher and staff unions on Wednesday calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay in-person classes.

On Wednesday, principals union the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and the United Teachers Federation released statements asking the city to postpone students’ return to school buildings until the end of next month. The extension would allow for teachers and city officials to better figure out to make in-person classes safer for everyone during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But during a tour of Village Academy in Far Rockaway, Queens, hours later Mayor de Blasio said he was set on launching in-person classes when the new school year begins on Sept. 10.

“What is the alternative? The alternative is to deprive our kids of the very best education available,” de Blasio told reporters outside of Village Academy. “I haven’t met an educator who believes that you can do the same things with remote learning that you can do in person.”

Both unions argue that there are still too many unanswered questions about the logistics of reopening schools for the city to give the green light next month for blended learning.

If all goes as planned,  700,000 out of the city’s 1.1 million public school students will take classes inside of school buildings every other day of the week this fall. Roughly a quarter of families opted for remote learning classes only.

But both unions, along with parents and teachers, have expressed concern over a lack of nurses in schools, poor ventilation systems,  how the city plans to fully equip teachers and students with sufficient personal protective equipment and a lack of guidance for teachers of students with special needs. Just how teachers and students are meant to keep completely socially distant when entering school buildings or in between classrooms is also cause for major concern.

“While the city’s messaging suggests that reopening plans have been developed collaboratively with our union, the city has failed to address many of our crucial concerns and ignored repeated appeals from school leaders to allow enough time to implement highly complicated protocols,” CSA President Mark Cannizzaro said in today’s statement.” Since last school year ended, our members have been working tirelessly to reimagine the upcoming school year and pleading for more information on the City’s incomplete reopening plans. The slow rollout of guidance has forced us to once again address an unfortunate truth: schools will not be ready to open for in-person instruction on September 10th.”

Roughly an hour after the CSA statement was released, UFT President Michael Mulgrew issued a statement in support of the delay.

“The UFT has said repeatedly that we cannot re-open schools unless they are safe for students and staff. The principals union — whose members will be responsible for enforcing coronavirus safety protocols in the schools — now believes that school buildings will not be ready to open in September,” Mulgrew said in a statement. Both unions have worked with the de Blasio administration to create the current school reopening plan. But according to a source familiar with the situation, City Hall ignored some union requests during the initial planning process.

“I hear their concern but this ball game is far from over, we are going to make these schools safe,” said de Blasio after he and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza viewed the school’s socially-distanced setup.

Large yellow lines cut run down halls with markers on either side to direct children and to ensure that they stay as physically distant from one another as possible, according to a pool report by Daily News reporter Micheal Elsen-Rooney.

In keeping with city guidelines, students will eat their lunches at their desks. And classrooms have been equipped with electrostatic cleaners that spray disinfectant. In order to improve school ventilation, classroom windows were opened a few inches. Village Academy is scheduled to get central air conditioning before classes begin to help air circulate in classrooms, according to Principal Doris Lee.

School administrators have set up 20 desks in one classroom half marked with yellow placards and the other half with blue. Only 10 students will be allowed in the classroom at any given time. “A classroom this big with only ten students in it,” de Blasio said.

“The irony is for years and years, everyone wanted smaller class sizes, this is not the way we wanted to do it, but it’s striking how different it will be.”

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