What happens now to students in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic?

Here is an open letter to Mayor DeBlasio and Chancellor Carranza from the city’s leading advocates for children:

April 24, 2020

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza,

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the ugliest inequities in our society into the glaring light for all to see. We must not continue the same system that resulted in these inequities, but must instead fundamentally change the way we think about our education, our society, and the world. In addition to the enormous number of lives lost and many more having fallen ill, New York City’s most vulnerable families and communities are suffering the ripple effect of harm caused by decades of segregation and systemic disinvestment in historically marginalized communities. Schools, which have increasingly carried the burden of serving the basic needs of families, have seen perhaps the most intense upheaval in day to day practices. This upheaval has been particularly hard on our most marginalized communities: multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and those living with housing instability.

The transition to “remote learning” has exposed and exacerbated existing gaps in access and opportunity for students across New York City. The Department Of Education launched an extensive effort to get devices and wifi access to every student, yet the remaining technical disparities alone warrant complete restructuring of the way students are evaluated towards a more humane grading system. To adhere to traditional grading at this moment would only serve to perpetuate the real impacts of pandemic-related stress, racial and economic disparities, and the fact that most teachers were not and still are not adequately prepared to provide high-quality instruction remotely.

Clearly, we are at a moment of global and local transformation. We need to respond and transform as well—by embracing responsive teaching and grading that honors and embodies the principles of equity and excellence as espoused by the DOE. A system-wide policy on grading and promotion grounded in equity and humanity is critical.

To that end, we propose the following for all NYC district schools in the 2019-20 school year and students who are alternately assessed in the 2020-21 school year:

Instruction during the school shutdown should be built around social cohesion, critical consciousness, social-emotional support, belonging, inclusion, and wellness.
Schools provide a responsive curriculum with space for students to reflect on their current reality. Teachers will co-develop learning targets/goals with students and families and pathways to achieve those goals through individualized learning plans. These plans will be prioritized for vulnerable students for next school year, based on core competencies and the four principles outlined in NYSED CRSE framework. All students on alternate assessment must be re-evaluated when schools reopen next year.

2. All seniors graduate.

Provide post-graduation and college transition support and planning for graduating seniors. Provide summer instruction to seniors who need to complete work from prior terms so they can graduate in August. Allow 21-year-old students who have not met graduation requirements to return to high school for the 2020-21 school year.

3. All students are promoted to the next grade.

Teachers identify essential skills and knowledge from their 2019-20 courses to be spiraled into the next level course/grade. DOE provides resources and a platform for summer learning courses that is accessible to all students to ensure continuity of learning. Schools conduct diagnostic assessments in person and when it is safe to do so to determine students’ progress, and plan curriculum and supports accordingly. Diagnostic test results should not be used as a tracking function in which vulnerable students are subjugated and inequalities are further exacerbated. This policy will not supersede individual parent choices to hold students back.

4. All elementary school students receive narrative reports only for the marking period (no grades).

Narrative reports communicate important information to students, families and next year’s teachers while maintaining a focus on learning.

5. All middle and high school students receive full credit for the marking period.

Assessment of assignments during remote learning is based on mastery of core competencies, rather than on compliance/completion factors. Students receive intensive supports over the summer and next school year to progress academically.

We believe quickly resolving the promotion and grading policies can help educators and the DOE focus on responding to the immediate needs of students and investing in long term strategies to support students in the coming school year. Moving forward, we hope we can deepen the conversation on what the purpose of schooling and education should be, what we should value and elevate, what we can eliminate, and how to create a school system that is authentically rooted in social justice values. This pandemic is an opportunity to dismantle systems of oppression and build a society that honors our collective humanity. We look forward to creating this school system with you.

cc: L. Chen, Chief Academic Officer

J. Williams, Public Advocate

C. Johnson, Speaker, City Council

Signed by: (organizational affiliation for identification purposes only):

Mark Treyger, Chair, City Council Education Committee

Advocates for Children New York City

Alliance for Quality Education (AQE)

Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC)

Class Size Matters

Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF)

D30 Equity Now

El Puente

Good Shepherd Services

Immigrant Social Services (ISS)



Literacy Trust

Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative (EJ-ROC) at NYU Metro Center


Mekong NYC

MinKwon Center for Community Action

New Settlement Parent Action Committee (PAC)

New York Immigration Coalition

NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ)

Parents Supporting Parents

Peer Health Exchange New York City

Read Alliance

South Asian Youth Action (SAYA)

The Child Center of NY

YVote/Next Generation Politics

Shannon R. Waite, PEP Mayoral Appointee

Shino Tanikawa, CEC 2

Ushma Neill, CEC 2

Robin Broshi, CEC 2

Emily Hellstrom, CEC 2, Chair Students with Disabilities Committee

Kaliris Y. Salas-Ramirez, CEC 4

Pamela Stewart, President CEC 5

Ayishah Irvin, CEC 5

Tanesha Grant, CEC 5

Aide Zainos, President, CEC 9

Thomas Sheppard, CEC 11

Ayanna Behin, President CEC 13

Tajh Sutton, President CEC 14

Yuli Hsu CEC 14 Vice President

Camille Casaretti, President CEC 15

Antonia Ferraro Co-Vice President CEC15

Nequan McLean, President, CEC 16

Erika Nicole Kendall, President CEC 17

Jessica Byrne, President CEC 22

Tazin Azad, CEC 22, Diversity and Cultural Inclusion Committee Co-Chair

Jonathan Greenberg, CEC 30

Martha Bayona, CEC 32

Amy Ming Tsai, CCD75

Grisel Cardona, CCD75

Sonal Patel, D2 parent, SLT member at PS 11

Mar Fitzgerald, D2 Parent Leader

Patricia Laraia, D2 Parent Leader

Nina Miller, D2 Parent Leader

Akeela Azcuy, D2 Parent Leader

Nina Miller, D2 Parent Leader

Cheryl Wu, D2 Parent Leader

Jeannine Kiely, D2 Parent Leader

Atina Bazin, D28 Parent Leader

Rashida Harris, D4 Parent Leader

Amy Hsin, Associate Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY