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If New York Can’t Open Schools, Nobody Can…

On Friday, August 7, 2020, Governor Cuomo greenlighted the over 700 New York State School Districts’ plans for the 2020-2021 school year. His message is clear: New York is tough; it has the lowest numbers in the country, and if New York can’t reopen, then no schools can safely reopen.  
However, the question remains, Can New York State lead the nation in safely conducting school during a worldwide pandemic that has cost over 160,000 Americans their lives? Click To Tweet
What is safe? Are there no infections, a limited amount, no deaths of teachers or students, one death? That answer seems to elude us collectively. What is safe in regular times seems absurd during days like these. 
How will the Covid-19 symptoms be monitored? Will parents report temperatures? Will students line up as they enter school buildings? What if someone is positive? How do you quarantine when there is a massive substitute teacher shortage, precipitated by the teacher exodus over the previous years? Will teachers, staff, and students be tested? Who pays for the tests? Where will the testing take place?  Parents and educators must demand answers to these testing questions. 
Unlike many other states, New York does not have county schools. Instead, New York has 750 districts operating semi-independently. This “independence” demonstrated by the lack of coordination amongst neighboring school districts is glaring. Schools in Onondaga county have schools going full time, remote only, and that particular new term: hybrid. This lack of coordination between local districts has caused childcare struggles for all parents and for teachers whose children do not attend the school where they are employed. 
If New York State does not have a state plan that is cohesive and unified, how can it lead the nation? 
These hundreds of districts include hundreds of school buildings—many of which lack airconditioning and, most which lack “safe” and proper air ventilation. If New York is going to lead the nation, the state’s school buildings need clean air. Adequate ventilation must be the priority of every parent and educator. 
Every school district in New York State has a slightly different interpretation of the guidelines concerning masks. Some plans call for the removal of masks at lunch. In comparison, others call for removal when students are seated six feet apart. Every parent and educator must demand masks whenever possible. One sneeze is all it takes to change the dynamic of a classroom. Children (from five to eighteen) will do better with consistent and firm expectations.  Rules can be loosened more easily than tightened. Consistent and firm policies on mask-wearing must be the priority of every parent and educator.  
Remote learning needs to be robustly improved. How can teachers acquire the necessary resources and training to enhance remote instruction before reopening? Teaching becomes incredibly more complicated in the hybrid model. Some districts are proposing synchronous teaching and learning on days students are remote in the hybrid model. That would mean adolescents (primarily) would be required to attend the school day virtually, learning new information. Will adolescents (without adult supervision) wake up on time and attend to these type of lessons? And will even the conscientious students successfully juggle all of the requirements? Are some districts in New York State being overly ambitious? This hybrid model is a nightmare for teachers and students. During a class period consisting of 40 minutes, teachers would live-stream their lessons and connect with students at home who they will see in class on an alternate day. This live stream might work better for students’ who have opted for the remote only option, but for students and teachers in the hybrid model, it is untenable. Parents and teachers must request instructional models and routines that are effective both in class and remotely.  
Governor Cuomo has mandated that districts plan for testing and conduct dialogue sessions between school leaders and parents, as well as at least one meeting between school administrators and teachers.  Hopefully, concerns about testing, tracing, substitutes, ventilation, masks, and instruction will be legitimately addressed.
Because, if New York State school districts can’t open safely, then nobody can.


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