De Blasio Pressed to Offer NYC Remote-School Option
(Bloomberg) -- Pressure is mounting on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to reverse his stance on a virtual option for students.
City schools, the largest district in the country, are set to reopen Sept. 13 fully in-person, five days a week, without the remote offering provided to kids last year. De Blasio has said the city will not offer a remote option and does not have a Plan B to offer virtual schooling in case rising coronavirus cases shutter schools again.
“We are dealing with an evolving pandemic and we have younger students currently ineligible for the vaccine,” said Mark Treyger, chairman of the City Council education committee, who is is leading the effort to push the mayor’s office on a more flexible alternative.
The fight is shaping up to be pivotal -- de Blasio has vehemently resisted calls to reconsider his stance even as the delta variant has roiled school openings in smaller districts across the U.S. on the forefront of a third school year overshadowed by the pandemic.
“We found that our kids were safest in school,” the mayor said during a Thursday news briefing in which he restated his opposition to offering remote online schooling. “Our kids are going to come back, going to follow the CDC and state Education Department guidance, going to keep the kids safe.”
Case rates among kids ages 5 to 12 have risen to 141 per 100,000 in the population as of Aug. 14, up from 29 per 100,000 on May 29, according to New York City health data. Among all ages, the rate has jumped to 151 per 100,000 from 26 per 100,000 during the same period.
A former high school social studies teacher, Treyger has written a letter to Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter urging her to develop a citywide curriculum to serve such students. Twenty-five of the city council’s members signed it as of Friday.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over,” Treyger wrote in the letter seen by Bloomberg News. “With growing uncertainties of the delta variant and as we wait for a vaccine to be developed and approved for distribution to children 12 years old and under, we cannot force parents to send their children into the classroom.”
School officials have told him that so far, the plan is to assign homework to students kept out of school for medical reasons.
Parents aired their frustrations at a Wednesday night meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, a group of 15 appointed members and the chancellor that serves as the DOE’s governing body.
“It is creating, in my opinion, an inflexible system that denies, inhibits or limits participation by parents and the community,” said Tom Sheppard who represents the presidents of the city’s 32 local Community Education Councils. “For me, that is unacceptable.” Sheppard said thousands of parents have signed petitions pleading for a remote option in the event the virus spreads to their children’s schools.
Jennifer Goddard, a Sheepshead Bay mother of a 9-year-old son with asthma, and an overactive immune disorder, called the back to school plan “unimaginably cruel.” Her son, who’s been hospitalized with the flu in the past, enrolled virtually last year and thrived academically. “You are willing to send him back into a dangerous situation and leaving parents like me no alternative but to choose between his education or his life,” Goddard said.
Chancellor Porter, addressing Goddard directly, suggested the school system could make a special arrangement for her son.
“I think we all agree that the best learning happens between teachers and students in school,” Porter said. “The medical experts have said, and we have seen also from an educational perspective, the greater risk, as well is to continue to keep students out of schools and out of classrooms for a more extended amount of time. So this is a moment where we all are making some really hard decisions in a really difficult time.”
De Blasio said Thursday the city will present a plan on how to continue lessons for quarantined students before the start of the school year. Such quarantines shouldn’t be a problem, he said, because they will be rare and extend for no more than seven days, as vaccination participation increases throughout the city. Last year’s low levels of infection in schools show “it is proven, it is documented” that they will create less risk of Covid-19 contagion than in the general community, the mayor said.
“Our home instruction program, which benefits a small number of children who are medically unable to attend school, will continue as it did pre-pandemic,” said Danielle Filson, press secretary for the New York City Department of Education. “We will work with families to tailor the instruction based on the medical needs of each child.”
Other school districts have taken steps to prepare for more virtual learning. The New Jersey Department of Education sent a memo last week encouraging teachers to be prepared to teach quarantined students virtually.
A school district in a Dallas suburb will implement a temporary online option for students up to 6th grade, that will be “reevaluated and extended as necessary until a vaccine is authorized for children.”
Connecticut schools, like New York City, will have no virtual option. “Moving forward, our shared commitment to equity requires refocusing on in-person learning opportunities,” the state’s Department of Education wrote in guidance issued mid-July.
The city’s Success Academy Charter Schools will have a virtual option for students available through the end of the first marking period, Oct. 8, that doesn’t require medical referral. About 10% of the roughly 23,000 student body opted for virtual, said Sam Chafee, a spokesperson, in an emailed statement.
“I feel the DOE is not listening to Black and brown parents who have expressed concerns about their children’s safety and are uncomfortable about coming back,” said Jasmine Gripper, executive director Alliance for Quality Education, a parents’ advocacy group.
A spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teacher union, declined to comment.
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