Well, We Saw This Coming: First Day of In-School Instruction Delayed Until September 21

Of the ten largest school systems in the country, the NYC DOE was the only one with plans to start the 2020-21 school year as originally intended on September 10th. By comparison, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago opted for fully virtual schooling in mid-July and early August respectively. But by now parents are, however painfully, aware New York City has delayed the first day of school.

The first week of instruction is fully virtual and begins on September 16th. For those families who opted for hybrid learning, in-school instruction commences on September 21st. So what happened? Here, to help make some sense of the chaos and bring a smile to your face, is a Tik Tok from our friend and FABulous neighbor, Jose Rolon, aka @nycgaydad.

In all seriousness though, the health and safety of 1.1 million schoolchildren, their teachers, administrators, and staff hung in the balance along with that of everyone’s families and their mental health. The DOE remained adamant schools would open on time. Hizzoner, Mayor De Blasio, and School Chancellor, Richard Carranza faced intense pressure from elected officials, school principals, teachers, and families. (An August 19th PEP meeting stretched from 6:00 pm – 4:00 am with hundreds of speakers voicing their increasing concerns.)

And so, the news changed daily, taking us all on an emotional roller coaster. (Admittedly, your correspondent found it frustrating and difficult to keep up). For a full sequence of events, head over to Chalkbeat which has consistently provided excellent re-opening reporting.

How do YOU feel about how the DOE handled re-opening school? Would it have been better if the DOE had made a decision earlier in the summer and stuck with it? Did you choose fully remote or hybrid learning? Or, did you opt for a charter or private school? Do you have child care issues? Do you have children attending different schools? Any lingering concerns? Comment away!

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Avolor/Flickr

Disclaimer: SongBirdNYC is the parent of an elementary-age child who has attended public school. The views expressed in this post are their own.

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  • Angela De Marco

    The mayor is an idiot.

  • http://www.yotamzohar.com StudioBrooklyn

    Hi, public school teacher here—

    Can anyone with an understanding of regional macroeconomics provide some numbers? I’m wondering:

    A. How much it would have cost to pay one parent/caregiver to stay home with each of the NYC public schools’ ~1.1 million students to do virtual learning until a proven vaccine is made accessible to them

    B. How much was spent in addition to the DOE’s regular operating budget to accommodate the “Blended” model

    C. If B is less than A, what is the numerical difference?

    D. What fraction of the total wealth of NYC’s resident billionaires is equal to C?

    E. What is the NYPD’s budget?

    The reason I ask is, the DOE and the UFT have insisted that their push for “Blended Learning” was done with staff and student safety as a top priority. I don’t understand how that can be true, given that the whole model was created in order to accommodate parents needing to return (in many cases, also unsafely) to work. I will share that I am left wondering why there wasn’t a push instead to secure some other source of funding (such as a tax levy on the ultra-wealthy, or defunding the openly hostile and systemically deleterious police, with other legal measures taken to counteract those groups’ inevitable pushback) so that families could afford to stay home and avoid the risk of protracting this pandemic.

    This isn’t an indictment of Carranza or Mulgrew—they did their jobs as best they were able, given the information they were working with. Rather, I’m vexed that as a society we seem to have learned nothing from the last six months.

  • Concerned

    The DOE has let down every parent and is now effectively perpetuating educational inequality – private schools can be in person and yet public schools have some weak hybrid model. Last year’s experience of a daily 25 minute Zoom call was pathetic. It is no wonder there are moving vans lined up on the streets of BH as families leave for the suburbs and in-person schooling. It is as if Betsy DeVos is running the DOE.

  • aeshtron

    Short-term profit is prioritized over everything. Partly blame the SEC for its requirement that publicly traded corporations report quarterly earnings and provide quarterly guidance. Or, blame human nature which justifiably prioritizes now over the future.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    I’m really conflicted. I was raised to think “unions, good,” but the UFT was clearly putting its interest (Ok, many of its MEMBERS’ interests) ahead of the communities and families it “served” as far back as the ’60’s, and it sure looks to me like they haven’t ever re-examined that stance.

    But let me not rant. Let me just ask – We expect/demand that health care workers report to work and basically try to save lives … knowing that the flip-side is that many of them are incurring higher risks in so doing.

    But … teachers – some of them over 70 – expect and get their union to get them waivers. “Sure, I’d love to teach … and I do so love my $100K salary now that I have maximum “seniority” points – but it’s not fair to ask me to report to a classroom!”

    I know the answer to “What private sector employer would put up with such B.S.?!” is – that’s why we should nationalize banks and make AOC Queen, but that doesn’t work for me.

    In this time of BLM, the UFT chants – even louder than the police or Trumpers – “NO, OUR lives matter … MORE!”

    Help me out here. I know that if I were married to a teacher or had one as a kid, I’d probably feel differently, but who wants to play “Ethicist?”

    Cuz let’s face it – there’s no way in hell that the terms the UFT dictated to our joke of a Mayor penalize almost every child – are there a million of them? – in NYC public schools.

    And – because I suspect that some of the more frequent posters on this site are knee-jerk liberals, can anyone deny that children of color and special ed. students are injured even more than average?

  • gc

    As a knee jerk liberal from the 60’s I would suggest you may want to rethink AOC or someone down that lane. Every day most of our children of color, and for that matter all our children not born to privilege, are starting further and further behind the top 5%.

  • gc

    I also think you are being a bit tough on teachers. Health care workers must realize that they have signed up for a sometimes risky job. By and large the rest of the professionals I know are working from home… and for a lot more money than most teachers make.

  • http://www.yotamzohar.com StudioBrooklyn

    If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that the UFT’s terms penalize almost every child in the NYC public schools. I’m not sure what you mean by that—it seems like you were specifically railing against teachers who sought medical accommodations to stay home and teach remotely. You should know that these are in the vast minority.

    I hope you have some perspective on who is being “punished” here: students are punished by being asked to be in a closed physical space with other people whose status, with regard to Covid, they are unsure of. Teachers are being punished the same way.

    If you have a problem with people not wanting to expose themselves to Covid risk, I suggest you punch upward—at the landlords and employers for pretending there isn’t a pandemic and that the economic system they benefit from is flawless/impervious—and not downward—at students and teachers for wanting to be safe.

    Punching downward is more of a knee-jerk reaction, by the way.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    I happened to read an article today that gives me more sympathy (and empathy) with the teachers.

    But your notion that what is best for the teachers is also even “good” for the students strikes me as nonsense.

    YES, we all enshrine “preservation of life” as a value higher than any other, but the cost (even shortening lives – millions of them) by essentially (even if unintentionally) suspending school and education for tens of millions of kids for a couple of years – be they 5 or 15 – is staggering.

    Of course, it IS incalculable, which is the only reason an interest group like the UFT can get away with it.

    Bringing up bogeymen like landlords when it’s single black mothers and their kids who are paying the highest price is classic rope-a-dope, something the UFT does better than anybody. With “positivity” at NY rates, the Mayor just might be right that “risk mitigation” should be the governing principle. Instead, the proponents of remote-only would rather scorch the earth.

    Also, your notion that waivers (“I can’t go in for medical reasons”) are rare is a blatant lie. Several NJ districts are teaching entirely remotely this fall because – as is the case in NYC – schools are run by and for the benefit of staff … to an extent that is egregious.

  • http://www.yotamzohar.com StudioBrooklyn

    What is best for teachers is not getting or spreading Covid. That is also what is best for students. That’s what the priority should be. That’s it.

    I’m vaguely interested in hearing why you think that virtual learning amounts to a complete suspension of education. 100% of the kids I’ve met are learning, no matter what they do, and just because it looks different online than what you’re used to doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. And even if none of that learning was academic (though that’s not the case), I don’t buy your assertion that a year or two of same amounts to a greater cost than the risk of protracting this pandemic for the same amount of time.

    What you call “scorch the earth” I call actual, meaningful risk mitigation. I am in my school building this week and I’ve seen the “risk mitigation” the DOE is taking. I can tell you with a lot of confidence, it won’t be long until we’re forced to return to fully remote.

    I bring up landlords and employers because without their insistence that the economy march along as usual while they demand money and labor, respectively, from the parents of school children, we wouldn’t have our priorities so screwed up. It is they who are screwing over single black mothers, not teachers! In fact they’re screwing over wealthy white two parent families as well!

    As you can see from my other post I am very dissatisfied with the deal the UFT and DOE reached. I don’t think it does enough to protect students and teachers and their families from Covid, as remote learning would. I think they should have been lobbying to make remote learning affordable and accessible to all public school families, whether they’re headed by black single mothers or not. The money is there, it’s just being hoarded by the wealthy and being given to organizations whose use of it doesn’t do anything meaningful for American families compared to what teachers and schools do.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    Promise you can have the last word – I had the first, I think – and I’ll try to keep this brief.

    I have to think that you are white and your personal experience (including conversations & observations of other people’s kids) reflects what I think somebody called “white privilege.” (I’m white, too, and while never feeling guilty about an accident of birth, I certainly acknowledge the irony of “us talking about them.”)

    Really, I *have* observed kids of different colors in remote learning situations. Suffice it to say that I see it as considerably less productive than you do.

    I get that you’re still not 100% comfortable with re-opening schools, and I certainly get that the NYC Govt and DOE are almost uniquely unlikely to instill such confidence.

    But KIDS ARE a lot less likely than staff to get sick, so one IS duplicitous (that’s you, of course) to harp on “Both kids and staff are at risk.”

    It seems fatuous to say it, but I think too many (like you) refuse to say it – ALL life and options come with risk.

    AND … the RISK to the millions of students who have barely learned a thing (in schools) since February [let’s agree to disagree whether that’s 40% of NYC P.S. kids or 90%) ought to figure in what comes next.

  • http://www.yotamzohar.com StudioBrooklyn

    Do I benefit from white privilege? Absolutely. Part of that privilege is a vantage point on what’s happening to people less fortunate than me. Last spring, my students who fell hardest through the cracks during remote learning largely correlated to at-risk populations. But that’s not because of remote learning! Most of those kids were doing poorly (academically) pre-Covid, and a few were not.

    The pandemic has laid bare every crack and fissure in our socioeconomic system.

    The reason those kids fell behind during remote learning was because for most children, remote learning requires domestic stability and parental guidance as a basic fact. And it sucks; parents all over the nation discovered how difficult it is to get their kids to sit down and concentrate for 30 minutes. But it’s still better for them than putting them in a friggin’ building right now! And too many children in our society do not have that stability at home. Even if it was one child, it would be too many.

    You said “kids are less likely to get sick” which, I have to say, sounds great in a vacuum. Here’s a useful article for you. Note this bullet point: “Taken together, the evidence indicates that where there is already widespread community transmission, as in many areas in the U.S., there is clearly a risk of further spread associated with reopening schools. The risks of reopening need to be considered carefully in light of the recognized benefits of in-person education.”

    As a society, we have the resources to make sure every kid is home with a caregiver helping them learn, we just don’t want to use those resources in that way. We want to give billionaires tax breaks. We want to give police more military gear. We want to send more weapons to Saudi Arabia. We want to finance archaic prisons and non-renewable energy pipelines. Meanwhile, the tenured straw-man teacher you spoke of who makes almost twice my salary—I hope you can appreciate that $100k/year barely cuts it in Brooklyn for a family of three, and that most of the people our neighbors work for, or some of our neighbors themselves, earn several times that amount in a week before they even put their pants on.

    I’m saying we can be safer from Covid AND succeed academically, but we (as a society) would rather try (and inevitably fail anyway) to do the latter, at the expense of the former, for reasons given above.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    You’re right on most of what you say. But somehow, “results” should matter more – even in/especially with education – than they seem to.

    The likes of Citibank are, of course, continuing to pay most of their staff …. because they have done the math and feel that while productivity may be down, it’s still positive and measurable.

    At a time when NYC is really likely to run out of money, with layoffs everywhere being forced upon it/us, what I see as the difference between moving toward the goals that EVERYONE has re public schools and what’s actually happening … well, I’ve always thought that anybody who thinks of him/herself as left of center should prefer downward “adjustments” in compensation – at times like these – to be preferable to “anyone hired in the last 2 years should be unemployed – and probably look for a new job/field/home.”

    Yes, I’m sure there are some teachers who are genuinely “working harder” since February than before, but if they are numerous, I’ll eat my hat. Maybe, they shouldn’t be penalized because education IS harder “via Zoom or similar,” but when a HS teacher’s work load is “an hour or 2 per week of office hours,” plus grading work from the smallish number who are trying to “keep up,” something is way out of kilter.

    People used to talk about babies born 9 months after a blackout. I predict – sadly – that economists will look at the adults who were kids during Covid and easily support my guess that they will be 5-10% “weaker,” on average, than comparables who finished up pre-Covid.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    And I, yours! No irony when I say, “Stay safe!”

  • SongBirdNYC

    You are my hero.

  • SongBirdNYC

    This is exactly the kind of conversation I had hoped this post would foster. Thank you StudioBrooklyn and Nomcebo. Studio-I’d love to chat more with you. I wanted to share some of my experiences and get your take. Would you email me at sonbirdnyc at gmail dot com? I realize you are teaching in a difficult situation so only if it is convenient. Thanks.

  • SongBirdNYC

    The NY TImes reported on a Harvard study that suggests young adults may not be as “impervious” to Covid-19 as once thought. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/10/world/covid-19-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

  • http://www.yotamzohar.com StudioBrooklyn

    Thank you! I sent you an email from my private address earlier today.

  • Steve Kavetsky

    So you’re teaching our kids and the first possible areas that you think funding can be sourced are NYC billionaires and the NYPD? Wow – I can’t WAIT to take my kids out of the public school system. How about focusing your ire at the DOE’s MASSIVE mismanagement of their budget FOR DECADES? How about considering how many buildings go unused in our city which COULD be used by charter schools (which out-perform many public schools) but these charter schools aren’t approved because the teachers’ unions have lobbyists working against them? As an educator yourself, please try to get educated on the whole system and it’s infamous problems before you throw ideas around like taking money away from police whose much more dangerous (than being a teacher during a pandemic or no pandemic) job, BY FAR, is to protect all of us. Just Sayin’

    PS – the wealthy of NYC are who keep the economy going by employing the rest of NYC. I have never seen ANYONE employed by someone who is poor. Therefore, if you keep trying to focus on the “ultra-wealthy” and “billionaires”, consider what happens when they decide to take their businesses, money, job opportunities to another city (which has already started happening, btw). Just consider what I wrote… because unlike your comment (which is obviously drenched in your politics) my response is based on commons-sense.

    Having said all that, I honestly do wish you and the rest of your fellow teachers safety and good health. I just happen to have a different view.

  • Steve Kavetsky

    Wow – as I said above – I can’t WAIT to take my kids out of the public school system. It’s quite simple with COVID: those teachers who are high risk should teach remotely. Those who aren’t should do their job the usual way (with precautions). Kids are LOW RISK at contracting the virus and if they DO contract it, they’re low risk at being hit hard by it. So the same goes for the students: those who are high risk or live with someone who is, should learn remotely. The rest should go back to school. Example: Sweden! Contrary to what some media have been misinforming, if you do some research focusing on PRIMARY SOURCES you’ll see that Sweden is doing just fine with all their kids in school being taught by teachers in school (with some exceptions).

    Considering that our country’s students consistently under-perform other countries in subjects like Math (I think algebra is a part of math) and science, repeat after me: “Our children need to go to school because they will never get this year back and will be severely more behind in their learning as well as their interactions with their peers.” Repeat after me: “If parents can’t go back to work (because their kids are home) then our economy will not recover. This will lead to less taxes collected by our government which will lead to less funds available to be wasted by the DOE”. If things were YOUR way, the next time there’s a pandemic that is manageable, imagine if the doctors and nurses also said they don’t want to do their job because they might contract the virus. You could say: well it’s their job! Exactly, and the teachers’ job is to teach. Our kids’ job is to learn and study. The parents’ job is to work! Businesses’ job is to re-open and be active. Etc etc.

  • http://www.yotamzohar.com StudioBrooklyn

    I can’t speak for everyone in the DOE but we’ll be sad to see your kids go.

    Your posts offer a lot of fundamental misunderstandings to unpack, some of which I already addressed, but most of which I have neither the time nor inclination to address. You seem to be under the impression that this health crisis is over, or that the cracks and fissures in our society that Covid has laid bare were all just its temporary byproducts.

    I hope you are still wearing a mask over your nose, mouth, and chin when you’re outside your own home. In addition to curbing transmission, it’s also a helpful reminder that priorities have rightly changed and that we must do difficult things, like spending seven extra hours each day in the company of our own families, for the collective benefit.

  • http://www.yotamzohar.com StudioBrooklyn

    While I appreciate this, I don’t want to scapegoat human nature, which is also capable of incredible empathy and selflessness when properly tuned through culture. And corporate CEOs may be stupider than most people realize, but the successful ones aren’t without the ability for long-term strategic thinking. I’m left both baffled and, sadly, unsurprised by the decisions made by those in power.