The debate about when, whether, and how we reopen our public schools remains one of the most wrenching. So many families (my staff and my own very much included) are desperate for their kids to be back in the classroom. We know their growth and development — and the chance for a more equal city — hinges on good public education. But the starting-point must be keeping our teachers, school staff, students, and families safe.

Principals in District 15 and District 13 in our district have written extremely thoughtful letters to the Chancellor, Mayor, and Governor asking for a delay and phase-in of in person learning this fall. Our principals have a heroic task before them right now, the unbelievably hard and complex responsibility to transform their buildings, schedules, and lesson plans, to build their teams without in-person time together, to reassure their families with too little information, to become quartermasters in an absurd fight for supplies, all with too-little guidance, and even fewer resources.

I trust their judgement, and I support their call for a several-week delay and phase-in to in-person schooling

Additional time means teachers, students, and families can get more of the information we need about the commitments the City has made. The DOE has promised that ventilation systems will be adequate (and classrooms without adequate ventilation won’t be used), that timely testing will be in place, that every school will have a nurse and sufficient PPE. They still need answers on how busing will happen, and guidance on how Integrated Co-Teaching and other services will work. Families and school staff need and deserve to see the receipts.

To be clear: My goal is to help us get back to in-person learning, as quickly as we safely can, not to promote a delay that becomes a cancellation.

Our principals have proposed bringing teachers and school staff back into buildings first, so that they can create and learn new protocols and prepare together to safely bring students back. To be honest, a week of team-building and professional development would always be a good idea; this year it’s a necessity. I’m especially eager for teachers to work together to develop social and emotional learning practices that transform pedagogical practice to address the trauma students are facing, to help strengthen resilience, heal, and recover together for the short and long term. To me, that’s the most important thing our schools can do this year. That takes real work, and it’s so different right now. It can’t be done with a couple-hour zoom session.

Phasing in over a couple weeks will help students, families, teachers, and staff get comfortable with new, unfamiliar, uncomfortable procedures, enable us to keep an eye on infection rates, and hopefully build confidence. I’ve got a friend whose mom works at a Montessori school (outside of NYC) that’s been open all summer. They recently had their first COVID case; and the fact that they handled it quickly, without any spread, has them feeling more confident for the rest of the year. 

I believe that an all-remote school year would truly be a disaster — especially for our most vulnerable students, including those with disabilities and for our youngest learners, but really for all of them. But we have to go back as safely as possible.  

Here’s what I’ll keep doing to help us get there:

Wrap-around child care: I’m pushing hard to make sure the City lives up to the commitment the mayor made to provide safe wrap-around childcare to families for the time their kids aren’t in the classroom. We must start providing this to teachers and school staff (how can they possibly be in the classroom with our kids if no one is watching theirs?), to essential workers, and to low-income families who don’t have other options. 

Outdoor school space: The DOE, in partnership with DOT and Parks, needs to support our schools in using outdoor space — for learning if they choose, but at the very least for lunch, for gym, for recess. So far, neither guidance nor resources (for tents and gear) have been provided. Both are necessary. So we’ll keep up the fight to make it happen. A group of parents are organizing a press conference to uplift the voices of students and families in support of outdoor schools. If you want to join us tomorrow in City Hall Park at 1pm, RSVP here

Supporting the schools in our district: My office will continue to work hard to be a resource and an advocate for our school communities. We’ve been checking in with every school to see how we can be helpful. Let us know what we can do to push for the information and resources you need. 

These are times of enormous anxiety, and with very good reason. I respect the choices that families and teachers are making. Our families have different health conditions, different material realities, and different approaches to risk. And I sure understand and share your immense frustration with woefully inadequate leadership, with too little clear information, and with budget cuts when more resources are needed.

But the leadership and example our principals are providing is one thing giving me hope right now. They are working round-the-clock to build the kinds of school communities that can show up for all our kids, in the time of our greatest need. Let’s listen to and learn from them.

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