Archives for category: Bill de Blasio

Politicians in New York City and New York State eagerly seek the endorsement of the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community because it tends to vote as a bloc, favoring whoever supports their interests. One of their highest goals is to make sure that their religious schools are free of any state mandates. Andrew Yang has emerged as the leading defender of the yeshivas and their “right” not to provide a secular education.

An investigation of yeshivas by New York City officials that started in 2015 wasn’t completed until 2019. The investigation was prompted as a result of complaints by a group of yeshiva graduates called YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education), led by Naftuli Moser. YAFFED said that some yeshivas failed to teach basic secular subjects such as English, science, and mathematics, leaving their students unprepared to enter secular society. YAFFED accused Mayor de Blasio of slowing down the investigation to placate his allies in the politically powerful Orthodox Jewish community.

In 2018, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by a graduate of a yeshiva complaining that all of his schooling had been taught in Yiddish or Hebrew, leaving him with no skills for the modern economy.

I was raised in New York’s Hasidic community and educated in its schools. At my yeshiva elementary school, I received robust instruction in Talmudic discourse and Jewish religious law, but not a word about history, geography, science, literature, art or most other subjects required by New York State law. I received rudimentary instruction in English and arithmetic — an afterthought after a long day of religious studies — but by high school, secular studies were dispensed with altogether.

The language of instruction was, for the most part, Yiddish. English, our teachers would remind us, was profane.

During my senior year of high school, a common sight in our study hall was of students learning to sign their names in English, practicing for their marriage license. For many, it was the first time writing their names in anything but Yiddish or Hebrew.

When I was in my 20s, already a father of three, I had no marketable skills, despite 18 years of schooling. I could rely only on an ill-paid position as a teacher of religious studies at the local boys’ yeshiva, which required no special training or certification. As our family grew steadily — birth control, or even basic sexual education, wasn’t part of the curriculum — my then-wife and I struggled, even with food stamps, Medicaid and Section 8 housing vouchers, which are officially factored into the budgets of many of New York’s Hasidic families.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, reported that the yeshivas “receive hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding, through federal programs like Title I and Head Start and state programs like Academic Intervention Services and universal pre-K. For New York City’s yeshivas, $120 million comes from the state-funded, city-run Child Care and Development Block Grant subsidy program: nearly a quarter of the allocation to the entire city.”

When the state or city says that the yeshivas should provide an education for their students that is “substantially equivalent” to secular education, their leaders cry “separation of church and state!” But, inconsistently, their representatives in the legislature actively lobby for tuition tax credits and vouchers. They want the state’s money but not its oversight of the education they provide.

Politico reported in 2019:

Only two out of 28 yeshivas investigated by the city’s Department of Education were deemed to be providing an education “substantially equivalent“ to that given at secular public schools, with another nine on their way to providing it, according to the city’s report on the long-delayed investigation into failing yeshivas.

The group Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, lodged complaints against 39 yeshivas it deemed failing in 2015, which is when the city ostensibly began its investigation. After years of delay, the city narrowed its scope to only 28 of the schools. The DOE finished its visits to those schools this year, according to a letter schools Chancellor Richard Carranza sent to Shannon Tahoe, the interim state education commissioner, on

Out of those 28 schools, the DOE said only two were found to be substantially equivalent to legally mandated secular education standards; nine schools were found to be moving toward substantial equivalency; 12 were cited as “developing in their provision of substantially equivalent instruction,” and another five were deemed “underdeveloped in demonstrating or providing evidence of substantially equivalent instruction.

Some yeshivas refused to allow the investigators to enter.

Now comes an election for Mayor in 2021, and Andrew Yang is a prominent candidate.

Yang has made a point of siding with the Orthodox community and defending their “right” to ignore state curriculum standards (e.g., teaching secular subjects like mathematics and science in English, not Hebrew or yiddish). Consequently, he has become a favorite among the leaders of the Ultra-Orthodox community. Yang has made a point of his support for parent’s freedom to choose any kind of education they want.

As other candidates danced around the subject, Yang offered a blunt defense of the embattled Jewish private schools. “I do not think we should be prescribing a curriculum unless that curriculum can be demonstrated to have improved impact on people’s career trajectories and prospects,” Yang said.

He added, pointing to his own month-long Bible course at a Westchester prep school: “I do not see why we somehow are prioritizing secular over faith-based learning.”

The stance rankled some education advocates, who pointed to a 2019 report that found just a fraction of yeshivas were providing students with adequate secular instruction. Other observers described the comments, which echoed a similar answer recently given to The Forward by Yang, as a transparent attempt to curry favor with the Hasidic voting bloc.

This is a transparently disingenuous response, since studying the Bible as literature for a month is very different from religious indoctrination and studying almost all subjects in Hebrew or Yiddish. Certainly this does not prepare young people to enter the modern economy with the skills they need. (Apparently, Yang attended public high school in Somers, New York, in Westchester County, then the private Phillips Exeter in Massachusetts.)

“It’s like a horse race where one horse comes from last to near the top,” one leader in the Orthodox community, who asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly, told Gothamist. While Eric Adams and Scott Stringer were previously seen as the front-runner candidates, “nobody expected we’d even look at this guy,” the source added of Yang. “All of a sudden it’s ‘Whew!’ He’s certainly in that first tier pool of candidates.”

On Twitter, both the Satmar and Bobov, two of Brooklyn’s most influential Hasidic dynasties, have referred to Yang’s comments as “refreshing.” The head of New York government relations for Agudath Israel, an umbrella organization for Haredi Orthodox synagogues, also commended the candidate on Thursday.

The recent comments mark a shift from an answer Yang gave to Politico last month, in which he suggested that schools not meeting baseline standards should be investigated. In the time since, the outlet noted, the campaign has hired the Borough Park District Leader David Schwartz as director of Jewish Community Outreach.

“The things he’s saying echo with great precision what the pro-yeshiva groups are saying,” another source in the Orthodox community told Gothamist. “He’s very carefully putting these talking points out there.”

Yang defended his stance at a forum moderated by Randi Weingarten:

Gracie Mansion hopeful Andrew Yang on Thursday mounted an extraordinary defense of the Big Apple’s embattled yeshiva schools, telling a Jewish mayoral forum that the city has little business “prescribing” secular curriculum to the religious institutions.

Yang made the comments during a virtual New York City mayoral forum hosted by the New York Jewish Agenda after moderator Randi Weingarten asked him: “As mayor, how would you ensure that every child receives what the New York state Constitution calls a sound basic education on secular topics, including not just the public schools, but including the yeshivas and other religious schools.”

“When I looked at the yeshiva question, Randi, the first thing I wanted to see were — what were the outcomes, what is the data,” Yang responded.

The tech entrepreneur and a leading Democratic front-runner in the mayoral race, continued, “I do not think we should be prescribing a curriculum unless that curriculum can be demonstrated to have improved impact on people’s career trajectories and prospects afterwards.”

Yang’s remarks fly in the face of a damning 2019 report by the Department of Educationon yeshiva schools in the city that found that just two of 28 provided adequate secular education to their students.

“If a school is delivering the same outcomes, like, I do not think we should be prescribing rigid curricula,” said Yang who then spoke of his experience in high school.

“I will also say that when I was in public school we studied the Bible for a month. Bible as literature,” he said. “If it was good enough for my public school, I do not see why we somehow are prioritizing secular over faith-based learning.”

Andrew Yang is a cynical opportunist.

New York City has a form of education governance called mayoral control, initiated by billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002, in which the mayor appoints most of the school board members and selects the chancellor of the system. Bloomberg claimed at the time that he knew how to solve all the problems of education, and he appointed an attorney with no education experience (Joel Klein) as his chancellor. Klein brought in McKinsey and a host of business consultants to reorganize the school system repeatedly. On the one occasion in 2004 when the city’s school board voted to oppose a decision by the mayor (who wanted to end social promotion for third graders, an idea championed by Jeb Bush), he (and the borough president of Staten Island) fired three dissenting members of the panel on the spot.

‘This is what mayoral control is all about,” Mr. Bloomberg said last night. ”In the olden days, we had a board that was answerable to nobody. And the Legislature said it was just not working, and they gave the mayor control. Mayoral control means mayoral control, thank you very much. They are my representatives, and they are going to vote for things that I believe in.”

In light of the mayor’s control of education, it came as a shock when the city’s “Panel on Educational Policy” voted 8-7 to oppose the mayor’s plan to continue testing 4-year-olds for admission to the highly coveted “gifted and talented program.” Both the mayor and the chancellor admitted that the testing program was a terrible idea, but insisted that it should be given just one year more. A majority of the panel thought that it made no sense to do the wrong thing “just one more time.” Children in the gifted program get extra enrichment that should be available to all students.

Chalkbeat reports:

In an extraordinary rebuke to Mayor Bill de Blasio, a New York City education panel early Thursday morning rejected a testing contract — halting, for now, the controversial practice of testing incoming kindergartners for admission to gifted programs.

With testing originally scheduled for this spring, it’s unclear how admissions to the city’s gifted and talented programs will move ahead. 

The rejection was an unusual flex for a panel that has little formal authority, is mostly appointed by the mayor, and has acted largely as a rubber stamp for his education policies. Approval seemed like a forgone conclusion when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that the entrance test would continue for one more year. But that required the Panel for Educational Policy to approve an extension of the city’s contract with the company that provides the entrance exams, at a cost of $1.7 million.

Instead, the vote failed 8-7, despite City Hall’s intense lobbying behind the scenes and the appointment of a new panel member just a day earlier. The rejection came even after Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan appeared at the virtual meeting, promising future significant reforms to the gifted program. In the meantime, the city proposed several admissions tweaks aimed at creating more diversity for the incoming kindergarten class. 

New York City is one of the only school districts in the nation that uses a test given to preschoolers to determine admission to elementary school gifted programs. Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have both criticized the exam, but intended to use it this year while pursuing long-term changes. 

“This is a very challenging topic. As a pedagogue, as a principal, as a parent, I can say with certainty that there is a better way to serve our learners than a test given to 4-year-olds,” Carranza said at Wednesday’s meeting. “That’s why we want this to be the last year this test is administered.”

Parent advocate Leonie Haimson has written an urgent plea to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza. They acknowledge that the test for the “gifted and talented” programs are flawed, they know they need to be replaced, they know that it is wrong to test children as young as 4, but they are giving the test anyway. Haimson says, STOP NOW!

Haimson writes:

Last week, Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carranza announced that they will administer the controversial and problematic test for admissions to “gifted and talented” classes this spring, for perhaps a final year. Then: 

“We will spend the next year engaging communities around what kind of programming they would like to see that is more inclusive, enriching, and truly supports the needs of academically advanced and diversely talented students at a more appropriate age… We will also engage communities around how best to integrate enriched learning opportunities to more students, so that every student – regardless of a label or a class that they are in – can access rigorous learning that is tailored to their needs and fosters their creativity, passion, and strengths.” 

Yet the question arises as to why they will continue to give these exams to children as young as four years old at all. They are exams that few respected researchers believe are either valid or reliable. Why not end the practice now, especially given the risks and considerable cost of administering this test during a pandemic? 

We have posted many critiques of New York City’s gifted program over the years on our NYC Public School Parents blog, including this one by esteemed education leader Debbie Meier in 2007, when Chancellor Joel Klein first instituted a standardized, high-stakes testing process for admissions to these classes in the supposed name of “equity.”

As Meier wrote, “They are using two instruments we know for a fact provide racially biased results–it’s the data that the canards about racial inferiority are based on and comes with a history of bias. Both class and race. Furthermore, we know that psychometricians have unanimously warned us for years about the lack of reliability of standardized tests for children under 7.”

The admissions outcome is clearly racially- and economically-biased, as nearly half of all students who take the test in the wealthiest part of Manhattan, District 2, score as “gifted” (meaning at 90th percentile) while very few score that high in the poorer neighborhoods of Brooklyn or the Bronx. Some parents pay up to $400 an hour for their four-year-old children to take test prep classes. 

About 29,000 children took the gifted test last year, and about 3,600 got offers for seats in gifted classes. Currently, according to the New York Post, Asian students account for 43% of these students, followed by white students at 36%, Hispanic students 8%, and Black students 6%.  

To show how ridiculous this test is, Haimson cites a study showing that most of the children who score at the top on the exam are not at the top a year later.

The only beneficiary of this test is Pearson, which turns a profit.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that middle schools will drop their screens–e.g., test scores, grades, etc.–for admissions and will choose students by lottery if they have more applicants than places. The administration of Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein eliminated zoned neighborhood high schools and middle schools and introduced screens for admission; about 40 percent of the city’s middle schools have selective admissions. The Mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza are taking advantage of the pandemic–which caused the cancellations of last year’s state tests–to turn the situation into an opportunity to promote racial integration in the city. New York State has the most segregated public schools of any state in the nation, according to the latest report from the UCLA Center on Civil Rights, which says “New York is the most segregated state in the country for Black students. The average Black student in New York attends a school with only 15% White students and 64% of Black students are in intensely segregated schools with 90-100% non-White students. While New York is the most segregated, Illinois, California, and Maryland and others also have extreme segregation levels.” Segregation and admissions tests are correlated.

Jillian Jorgensen of NY1 explains how the changes would work.

The city is making significant changes to the middle and high school admission processes due to the coronavirus pandemic — eliminating the use of academic criteria to determine admissions to middle schools this year, but allowing it to continue at high schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced Friday. 

The mayor and chancellor argued that using screens at the middle school level was not possible when those students did not get grades or take state exams last academic year, in part because they are so young. Students applying to high school, they argued, had more data to draw from for screened admissions. 

“I think the simple answer on high school versus middle school is, middle school just wasn’t viable. There was no way to do fair evaluation with a screen this year. High schools, there’s more factors to deal with for this year,” de Blasio said.

The controversial Specialized High School Admission Test, the sole criteria for admission to the city’s most prestigious public schools including Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science, will remain in place and will be given in person in January.

Here’s a rundown of how admissions will work this year.

MIDDLE SCHOOLS

Middle schools will not use academic screens as part of their admission process this school year. However, middle schools will still be able to give priority for admission to students who live within the school’s community school district.

Keeping middle school screens would have meant admitting students based on their third-grade scores, and that’s the first year children take state exams.

“It’s just not educationally sound. But we do have other data points for the high schools and that was factored into the decision,” Carranza said.

The removal of middle school screens is so far temporary — but the mayor hinted it could continue.

“This is clearly a beginning. And what I think is clear is that unfortunately screens have had the impact of not giving everyone equal opportunity. And this is not our future,” he said.

If a school has more applications than seats, students would be chosen via a lottery.

Students will be able to apply to middle school beginning the week of January 11; a deadline will be set for some time during the week of February 8.

HIGH SCHOOLS

Academic screens will remain in place for high school admissions. However, those screens typically use tests scores and grades a student earned in the last school year, and public schools did not give grades last school year, nor were state exams taken. Schools will instead be able to use test scores and grades from the year prior — so, a student’s sixth grade year, as opposed to their seventh.

Schools will now be required to post online the exact rubric they use for ranking students; and that ranking will be done by the Education Department’s central office, not the school.

In a significant shift, the city will eliminate the use of district geographic priorities for high school students, a process that had come under fire in Manhattan’s District 2.

The city eliminated “zoned” high schools under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, allowing students to apply for high schools across the city. But some schools still gave preference to students who live within the same district where the school is located, giving those students a tremendous edge for admission. That means students who live elsewhere are often shut out of these schools — some of the highest performing, and often least diverse, in the city.

All other geographic priorities — some schools have priority admissions for students from the same borough, for example — will be scrapped in the next school year.

Eliza Shapiro of the New York Times writes:

New York is more reliant on high-stakes admissions screens than any other district in the country, and the mayor has for years faced mounting pressure to take more forceful action to desegregate the city’s racially and socioeconomically divided public schools. Black and Latino students are significantly underrepresented in selective middle and high schools, though they represent nearly 70 percent of the district’s 1.1 million students.

But it was the pandemic that finally prompted Mr. de Blasio, now in his seventh year in office, to implement some of the most sweeping school integration measures in New York City’s recent history. They will be, by far, the mayor’s most significant action yet on integration.

With many schools shuttered, grading systems altered and standardized testing paused since the spring, the metrics that dictate how students get into screened schools have largely disappeared. That has made it next to impossible for many schools to sort students by academic performance as they have in previous years…

The changes, which will go into effect for this year’s round of admissions, will affect how about 400 of the city’s 1,800 schools admit students, but will not affect admissions at the city’s specialized high schools or many of the city’s other screened high schools.

Mr. de Blasio and his successor will no doubt face pressure to integrate those schools, which are among the most racially unrepresentative in the system. But integrating specialized and screened high schools has long been considered a third-rail in the district, and changes made there would no doubt be highly contentious.

The city will eliminate all admissions screens for middle schools for at least one year, the mayor will announce. About 200 middle schools, or 40 percent of all middle schools, use metrics like grades, attendance and test scores to determine which students should be admitted. Now those schools will use a random lottery to admit students.

Selective middle schools tend to be much whiter than the district overall. Mr. de Blasio is essentially piloting an experiment that, if deemed successful, could permanently lead to the elimination of all academically selective middle schools.

Mayor de Blasio has wavered about when and how to open the schools since the pandemic began. Now he has drawn a line in the sand and threatens to close all the city’s schools if the city reaches a certain level of infections. Some schools are in danger zones. Others are not. Some parents—and the New York Daily News editorial board—think the mayor should recognize that some schools are safe and allow them to remain open.

The New York Times reports that the public schools of New York City have been conducting random drug tests, and the results reveal a surprisingly small number of COVID-19 infections. The city might be a “national model.”

For months, as New York City struggled to start part-time, in-person classes, fear grew that its 1,800 public schools would become vectors of coronavirus infection, a citywide archipelago of super-spreader sites.

But nearly three weeks into the in-person school year, early data from the city’s first effort at targeted testing has shown the opposite: a surprisingly small number of positive cases.

Out of 15,111 staff members and students tested randomly by the school system in the first week of its testing regimen, the city has gotten back results for 10,676. There were only 18 positives: 13 staff members and five students.

And when officials put mobile testing units at schools near Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that have had new outbreaks, only four positive cases turned up — out of more than 3,300 tests conducted since the last week of September.

New York City is facing fears of a second wave of the virus brought on by localized spikes in Brooklyn and Queens, which have required new shutdown restrictions that included the closure of more than 120 public schools as a precaution, even though few people in them have tested positive.

But for now, at least, the sprawling system of public schools, the nation’s largest, is an unexpected bright spot as the city tries to recover from a pandemic that has killed more than 20,000 people and severely weakened its economy.

If students can continue to return to class, and parents have more confidence that they can go back to work, that could provide a boost to New York City’s halting recovery.

The absence of early outbreaks, if it holds, suggests that the city’s efforts for its 1.1 million public school students could serve as an influential model for school districts across the nation.

In September, New York became the first big urban district to reopen schools for in-person learning.

Roughly half of the city’s students have opted for hybrid learning, where they are in the building some days, but not others. The approach has enabled the city to keep class sizes small and create more space between desks.

Since then, large school districts across Florida have opened for in-person learning, too. Some wealthier districts in the New York suburbs declined to take this step, worried that it was too risky and logistically challenging.

The city’s success so far could put much more pressure on other districts that have opted for only remote instruction to start considering plans to bring their children back as well.

“That data is encouraging,” said Paula White, executive director of Educators for Excellence, a teachers group. “It reinforces what we have heard about schools not being super spreaders.”

So far, it is also good news for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has staked much of his second-term legacy on reopening schools for in-person learning during the pandemic.

While public health experts said the data was encouraging, they also cautioned that it was still early.

In general, maintaining low levels of infection at schools would depend on how well New York City does in holding off a broader spread in the population.

Also, some experts have called for much more frequent random testing in all schools — something that city officials are considering — in order to increase the odds of discovering an outbreak early.

So far, most coronavirus testing for school workers has taken place at city-run sites outside the purview of the education department.

Out of 37,000 tests of staff members at city sites, 180 were positive, a city official said.

According to separate data reported to the state by local school districts, 198 public school students in New York City have tested positive since Sept. 8. (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in early September ordered those conducting coronavirus tests to collect school information on children, but so far compliance has been spotty, state officials said.)

The city’s new schools testing regimen, which began Oct. 9, calls for 10 to 20 percent of the school population to be tested once a month, depending on the size of the school. The city is applying this testing to its 1,600 traditional public schools; the city’s 260 charter schools are not included.

Some researchers have questioned the efficacy of that approach, saying it could miss a large outbreak.

“It’s great that New York City is doing some level of random testing,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “It’s not at the level that would be ideal.”

One study recommended testing half the students twice a month.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers union, said the city is looking to increase testing to as much as three times a month citywide. Such frequency, he said, would be “much more valuable” in terms of keeping the virus in check…

A positive test of a student or teacher causes the city to spring into action. Under the rules, one case can cause the closure of a classroom. Two or more cases in separate parts of the same school can prompt a temporary schoolwide closure. At least 25 schools have temporarily closed since classes began. But only three were closed as of Friday…

A positive test of a student or teacher causes the city to spring into action. Under the rules, one case can cause the closure of a classroom. Two or more cases in separate parts of the same school can prompt a temporary schoolwide closure. At least 25 schools have temporarily closed since classes began. But only three were closed as of Friday.

Right now, Mayor Bill de Blasio must be thinking that mayoral control of the schools is not such a great idea. Michael Bloomberg demanded mayoral control when he was first elected mayor in 2001. The State Legislature turned the schools over to the billionaire. Despite specious claims of a “New York City Miracle,” the problems remained serious. The mayor broke almost all the large high schools into small schools. He embraced charters as an engine of innovation, which they were not.

Now de Blasio is trying to deal with a major publuc health crisis that has hurt the city’s economy, and the dilemma of reopening is on his desk.

The Council of Supeervisors and Administrators passed a resolution of no confidence in both de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza.

Leonie Haimson explains why.

New York City’s CSA (Council of Supervisors and Administrators) passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza for their poor leadership during the public health crisis and asked the state to intervene to help the public schools reopen safely.

CSA represents the city’s public school principals.

In this article that appeared in The Atlantic, political reporter Grace Rauh rails against the failed leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio for his inability to open the public schools safely.

To be fair, equal blame for the chaos and confusion surrounding the reopening of schools must be allocated to Chancellor Richard Carranza, who appears to be overwhelmed.

School openings have twice been announced and postponed.

Remote learning has been riddled with technical problems, unequal access to technology, disrupted internet service, and a host of other issues.

Many parents, like Rauh, are furious.

She writes:

For weeks now, I’ve been the unpopular parent on the playground predicting with certainty for anyone who cared to listen that our children would not enter a public-school building in New York City this year. And sadly, I may be proved right. For the second time this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio has delayed the start of in-person school, largely because of a staffing shortage.

New York City has done what seemed impossible in April: It flattened the coronavirus curve and now boasts a positive-test rate of about 1 percent. In theory, the low case-positivity rate might have meant that public-school principals and teachers would feel comfortable opening up this fall. Many do not, however, and the mayor has utterly failed to overcome the problem.

He could have spent the summer months convincing the stakeholders that staggered schedules—with some kids learning at home each day—smaller classes, and improvements to air-circulation systems, along with commonsense precautions such as masks and frequent hand-washing, would be sufficient for an on-time start. He could then have worked with the Department of Education to make sure that these precautions were in place and that teachers knew what to expect.

Alternatively, he could have decided weeks, if not months, ago to start the school year completely remote and announced that the city would gradually move toward in-person learning if conditions allowed for it.

But the mayor chose neither of those paths. He set deadlines that he refused to put in the work to meet, sowing chaos and ongoing frustration for families and teachers alike. How on Earth did he not foresee a staffing shortage? De Blasio has failed our kids and is teaching them a lesson about political leadership that I hope they never forget.

Our children have endured six months of hardship and fear and Zoom calls and canceled plans, and far too many have lost loved ones to this virus. The start of school, though, was a bright spot on the horizon for my family and so many others.

But even as I told my children that September 10 (the first first day of school) was right around the corner, I tried to manage expectations. As many New Yorkers have discovered since the start of the pandemic, our mayor has not demonstrated the ability to manage large-scale operations or the energy to get things done. To put it bluntly, de Blasio doesn’t know how to lead New York City. Even worse, he doesn’t seem to care. At his news conference on Thursday, he did not apologize for the delay and asserted, oddly and insensitively, that because most public-school parents are low-income and live outside of Manhattan, they “understand the realities of life” and are “not shocked when something this difficult has to be adjusted from time to time.”

De Blasio worried about a teacher shortage, which was predictable. It is hard to have social distancing in classrooms that are already overcrowded. The only way to reduce class size to safe limits is to hire many more teachers, thousands more in a system with 1.1 million students. Union leaders (teachers and principals) worried about safe schools, lack of ventilation, lack of cleaning and safety supplies.

Chalkbeat reported:

A staffing crunch has forced the country’s largest school system to delay reopening school buildings for the second time. Estimates are that the city needs thousands more teachers — it’s not clear how many — to fill virtual and in-person classrooms.

The problem was brewing for months, with plenty of warnings from principals and experts. In the end, similar to previous big decisions, Mayor Bill de Blasio repeatedly brushed off concerns until the last minute, further eroding the public’s trust in his reopening strategy.

Now, principals and teachers say they’ve lost precious time that could have been devoted to improving instruction for a year unlike any other, and it’s unclear whether another delay will even solve the staffing conundrum.

Just two school days before buildings were set to reopen, de Blasio announced Thursday the city would instead pivot to a phased-in approach. Now, pre-K students and those with significant disabilities will be the first to return to classrooms on Sept. 21. Elementary school buildings open on Sept. 29, and middle and high schools two days later on Oct. 1. Full-day remote learning will start for all students this Monday.

Parents and students alike are sick of remote learning. Teachers are fearful for their health. Leadership involves planning and acting on the best information. That hasn’t happened.

Stay tuned.

Cynthia Nixon, award-winning actress, is an activist for public schools. She ran against Andrew Cuomo for Governor in the Democratic primary in 2018. He had collected $35 million or so before the campaign started and outspent her 35-1. Her big issue was inevitable school
funding. (I endorsed her.)

She wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times contrasting the resources available to make her TV show set completely safe and the inadequate, spotty measures to make the schools safe for 1.1 million children.

Priorities! Kids don’t count!

Two phone calls exposed the differences in resources, planning, and care for health and safety:

On the call related to my show, I heard about the many tours the industrial hygienist had taken of the set and about the renovation of some of our work spaces to be coronavirus-safe. Out of an abundance of caution, even some spaces that looked fairly healthy had been eliminated.

I also heard about how the crew and production staff would be divided into strict pods; they would be tested before they started work and then tested one to three times a week. Actors, who need to remove their masks, would be tested every day. Anyone coming to New York from out of state would need to quarantine for two weeks before being allowed on set.

Air purifiers have been purchased, filtration systems have been upgraded, and an entire department has been created solely to deal with safety protocols and testing. And Covid-19-upgraded vans and shuttles, along with extra parking lots, were available to ensure that everyone had safe transportation to work.

The second call was a meeting of the parents association at my son’s public school. I heard that teachers and administrators could choose to be tested for the coronavirus before the school year began and that people entering the school could decide whether they wanted their temperature taken.

I heard about classroom pods limited to nine students, a restriction made irrelevant by the number of people moving freely from pod to pod — teachers, school staff members and even parents who are now being recruited as substitute teachers by overwhelmed school administrators. I heard about the several hundred school nurses who still needed to be hired in the system.

I heard that building inspections would begin just a few weeks before school was set to open, even though out of the 1,700 buildings to be examined, a thousand already have documented ventilation problems. And I could only shake my head as I later saw that the system for testing these ventilation systems involves using a yardstick with a piece of toilet paper attached to it by paper clip to gauge airflow.

Needless to say, the care and investment given to restarting television and film production in New York looks nothing like the uncertain, chaotic, shamefully underfunded and profoundly unsafe approach to reopening the public schools, which serve 1.1 million children, nearly three-quarters of them deeply underprivileged.

This pandemic has laid bare our society’s inequities, and nowhere more than in our public schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, lauded as a hero for his handling of the state’s pandemic response, has overseen a supposedly temporary 20 percent reduction of its payments to school districts since this summer.

In New York City, the decrease would amount to a $2.3 billion loss for the schools over the next year. The city schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, said that the cuts, if made permanent, would mean “game over” for in-person learning, and would lead to programming cuts and 9,000 layoffs in the Department of Education.

Yet the governor has resisted raising taxes on the state’s 118 billionaires (up from 112 last year), who have seen their collective wealth increase by $77 billion during the pandemic, a figure that dwarfs the state’s projected budget gap of $14.5 billion this year.

Even before the pandemic, New York State was second in the country when it comes to inequities in education funding — with rich districts getting $10,000 more per student on average than poor districts. (The state’s failure to equitably and fully fund New York’s low-income school districts motivated me to run for governor in 2018.)

The city has compounded the continuing disinvestment in our public schools. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council pushed through nearly $1 billion in cuts and savings to the education budget. Coupled with the state reductions, the schools are now facing a staggering cut of $3.3 billion.

The mayor has been hamstrung by the governor and his own political miscalculations and leadership failures. As experts warned of a pandemic earlier this year, the mayor, echoing Mr. Cuomo’s confidence that the virus could be contained, resisted calls to close the schools.

By early May, at least 74 Department of Education employees had died in connection with Covid-19. (Researchers at Columbia found that had the city shut down even a week earlier than March 16, the date when schools were finally closed, some 18,500 Covid-19 deaths citywide could have been avoided.)

Over the summer, as schools in Los Angeles and Chicago decided to go fully remote this fall, giving them crucial weeks to prepare for remote learning and make accommodations for the neediest students, our mayor at first stubbornly refused the pleas of parents and teachers and pushed for reopening in person without delay.

The mayor, whom I endorsed in 2013, has insisted correctly that schools are vital for the city’s most vulnerable families. His desire to reopen on time, however, has not been backed up with adequate safety measures.

It is noteworthy that a survey last month by the Education Trust-New York found that Black, Latino and low-income families — many of whom have already been disproportionately hit by the virus — were significantly more wary of reopening schools this fall. Only when threatened with a strike by teachers (who were largely demanding many basic safety measures) did the mayor finally agree to delay opening, albeit by less than two weeks. As a result, all city public school students are now without schooling, remote or in person, for most of this month.

Instead of asking our wealthiest citizens to pay more during a time of crisis, New York is imposing austerity on public schools — even though fewer dollars mean fewer safety measures, more cases and more deaths.

If city and state leaders cared half as much about our children as they do about television actors, we’d be raising revenue and giving our schools the funding needed to reopen safely. The attention being devoted to keeping the city’s movie sets safe shows that it’s possible. Don’t our students and teachers deserve the same level of care and investment?