Archives for category: New York City

There was a time long ago when public schools were thriving, and Catholic schools were also thriving. They were not in competition for students or money. But as our financial demands began pressing on both sectors, Catholic schools began closing and struggling to survive. Among rightwing ideologues, it became conventional to proclaim Catholic schools as “better” than public schools because they were free to kick out the students they didn’t want.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, an editor at Commonweal, calls on certain tabloids (i.e. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post) to stop using Catholic schools to shame public schools. She hearkens back to that long-ago ethic when the different sectors served different populations and knew it.

The Post is unlikely to cease its attacks on the city’s public schools, because Murdoch loves school choice and lionizes charter schools. The Post eagerly prints press releases from Success Academy without ever bothering to fact-check or to acknowledge that SA is an exemplar of high attrition rates and high teacher-turnover rates.

O’Reilly writes (and this is only part of her article):

I can’t comment on the soundness of the decisions being made by the New York City Department of Education. But I know who I see using the pandemic to stuff their pockets, and it isn’t fat-cat maintenance workers. The Post’s implication that public-school educators are unconcerned with their students’ wellbeing is disgraceful. And while it is true that Catholic schools can be a lifeline for students served poorly by public education, I have also known families who have moved their children out of Catholic schools because the public system provides—is required to provide—services for learning disabilities and other special needs that Catholic schools can’t always accommodate. “Putting education first” is not as simple as it sounds.

Catholics should be standing in solidarity with all our neighbors as we do our best to cope with this crisis. We degrade our witness when we allow Catholic schools to be used in a propaganda campaign against public services—or against an honest reckoning with the facts. As the 2020 election approaches, conservatives are eager to exploit the Catholic school success story to advance the claim—let’s call it what it is, a conspiracy theory—that liberals are dishonestly playing up the threat of COVID-19 to make President Donald Trump look bad.

The truth is, my kids and their schoolmates are part of a broad experiment to find out whether masks and distancing and all the other safeguards in place are enough to prevent the spread of the virus. All of us, public and private, parents, teachers, and administrators, are looking for the best way forward in a highly unstable situation. That situation is not the fault of teachers’ unions, or lazy public-school janitors, or even (despite his many sins) Bill de Blasio. It is a direct consequence of the reprehensible failure of the Trump administration to protect Americans from COVID-19. We are all still scrambling, months after schools first shut down in March, because we have inadequate testing and tracing, no national recovery plan, and a president who undermines public trust and sneers at his opponent for wearing a mask. The real scandal we’re all facing isn’t the lack of a functional school system. It’s the lack of a functional federal government.

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?

New York City’s vaunted Success Academy, which boasts the highest test scores in the state, the highest teacher turnover rate, and very likely the highest student attrition rate (unsure because unreleased by city authorities), has announced that it will be all-remote until at least January.

Success Academy is famed for its strict no-excuses policy and its readiness to eject any student who does not comply.

Problems, as the New York Daily News reports.

Under the plan, kids as young as 5 have to log on by 8:50 a.m. wearing their checkered orange and blue uniforms, and sit still with their hands clasped for nearly seven hours of live video instruction.

They also have to ask permission to use the bathroom — and can get a virtual boot and be suspended if they act up, which would turn off their cameras and microphones for a day or more.

“I don’t think it’s right for a 6-year-old … they have to sit there like a robot with their hands folded,” said one mom of a Success first-grader in Far Rockaway, Queens, who asked to remain anonymous because she fears retaliation from the school.

“Every day she cries and says she doesn’t want to go to school,” the frustrated mom told The News.

The article includes the news that Fabiola St. Hilaire, a teacher at Success Academy who sparked a controversy over racism at Success Academy last year, has resigned, saying she could no longer be complicit.

“Working for this organization has truly showed me that as long as I stand with the inaction and blatant disregard for child morality and healthy development it in turn will make me complicit, which I will never be,” she wrote in her resignation letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The News.

The New York Daily News reported that the Trump administration has changed rules for spending federal funds on emergency spaces, which means that subways and public schools will no longer receive funds for cleaning during the pandemic.

Transit systems, schools and other public facilities in New York could soon become a whole lot dirtier because of a policy change enacted by the Trump administration that’ll strip millions of dollars in critical coronavirus aid for the state, the Daily News has learned.

It’s a gut-punch no one saw coming, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) railed Thursday.

Since the outset of the pandemic, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has helped New York and other states cover the costs of coronavirus-fighting efforts — from disinfecting schools and government buildings to stocking up on personal protective equipment for public employees.

But FEMA snuck in a rules change this week to say “the operation of schools and other public facilities” are no longer considered “emergency protective measures eligible for reimbursement,” declaring, “These are not immediate actions necessary to protect public health and safety.”

Presumably, this change will affect schools across the nation that rely on FEMA for extra cleaning.

Apoorva Mandavilli is an award-winning science reporter for the New York Times. She is a mother of two children. She lives in Brooklyn. In this article, she thinks through the pros and cons of sending her children back to school. To read the links, open the story. Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio and UFT leader Michael Mulgrew announced that the city’s public schools would open for blended learning on September 21. Orientation will begin September 16. Teachers will report to their buildings on September 8.


All summer, as information about how the coronavirus affects children has trickled in, I’ve been updating a balance sheet in my head. Every study I read, every expert I talked to, was filling in columns on this sheet: reasons for and against sending my children back to school come September.

Into the con column went a study from Chicago that found children carry large amounts of virus in their noses and throats, maybe even more than adults do. Also in the con column: two South Korean studies, flawed as they were, which suggested children can spread the virus to others — and made me wonder whether my sixth-grader, at least, should stay home.

Reports from Europe hinting that it was possible to reopen schools safely dribbled onto the pro side of my ledger. But could we match those countries’ careful precautions, or their low community levels of virus?

I live in Brooklyn, where schools open after Labor Day (if they open this year at all), so my husband and I have had more time than most parents in the nation to make up our minds. We’re also privileged enough to have computers and reliable Wi-Fi for my children to learn remotely.

But as other parents called and texted to ask what I was planning to do, I turned to the real experts: What do we know about the coronavirus and children? And what should parents like me do?

The virus is so new that there are no definitive answers as yet, the experts told me. Dozens of coronavirus studies emerge every day, “but it is not all good literature, and sorting out the wheat from the chaff is challenging,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an expert in adolescent health at Brown University.

But she and other experts were clear on one thing: Schools should only reopen if the level of virus circulating in the community is low — that is, if less than 5 percent of people tested have a positive result. By that measure, most school districts in the nation cannot reopen without problems.

“The No. 1 factor is what your local transmission is like,” said Helen Jenkins, an expert in infectious diseases and statistics at Boston University. “If you’re in a really hard-hit part of the country, it’s highly likely that somebody coming into the school will be infected at some point.”

On the questions of how often children become infected, how sick they get and how much they contribute to community spread, the answers were far more nuanced.

Fewer children than adults become infected. But childhood infection is not uncommon.

In the early days of the pandemic, there were so few reports of sick children that it was unclear whether they could be infected at all. Researchers guessed even then that younger children could probably catch the coronavirus, but were mostly spared severe symptoms.

That conjecture has proved correct. “There is very clear evidence at this point that kids can get infected,” Dr. Ranney said.

As the pandemic unfolded, it also appeared that younger children were less likely — perhaps only half as likely — to become infected, compared with adults, whereas older children had about the same risk as adults.

But it’s impossible to be sure. In most countries hit hard by the coronavirus, lockdowns and school shutdowns kept young children cloistered at home and away from sources of infection. And when most of those countries opened up, they did so with careful adherence to masks and physical distancing.

Children may turn out to be less at risk of becoming infected, “but not meaningfully different enough that I would take solace in it or use it for decision making,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

In the United States, children under age 19 still represent just over 9 percent of all coronavirus cases. But the number of children infected rose sharply this summer to nearly half a million, and the incidence among children has risen much faster than it had been earlier this year.

“And those are just the kids that have been tested,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a former health commissioner of Baltimore. “It’s quite possible that we’re missing many cases of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic children.”

In the two-week period between Aug. 6 and Aug. 20, for example, the number of children diagnosed in the United States jumped by 74,160, a 21 percent increase.

“Now that we’re doing more community testing, we’re seeing higher proportions of children who are infected,” Dr. Ranney said. “I think that our scientific knowledge on this is going to continue to shift.”

Children do become sick with the virus, but deaths are very rare.

Even with the rising number of infections, the possibility that panics parents the most — that their children could become seriously ill or even die from the virus — is still reassuringly slim.

Children and adolescents up to age 20 (definitions and statistics vary by state) represent less than 0.3 percent of deaths related to the coronavirus, and 21 states have reported no deaths at all among children.

“That remains the silver lining of this pandemic,” Dr. Jha said.

But reports in adults increasingly suggest that death is not the only severe outcome. Many adults seem to have debilitating symptoms for weeks or months after they first fall ill.

“What percentage of kids who are infected have those long-term consequences that we’re increasingly worried about with adults?” Dr. Ranney wondered.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a mysterious condition that has been linked to the coronavirus, has also been reported in about 700 children and has caused 11 deaths as of Aug. 20. “That’s a very small percentage of children,” Dr. Ranney said. “But growing numbers of kids are getting hospitalized, period.”

Children can spread the virus to others. How often is still unknown.

Transmission has been the most challenging aspect of the coronavirus to discern in children, made even more difficult by the lockdowns that kept them at home.

Because most children are asymptomatic, for example, household surveys and studies that test people with symptoms often miss children who might have seeded infections. And when schools are closed, young children don’t venture out; they tend to catch the virus from adults, rather than the other way around.

To confirm the direction of spread, scientists ideally would genetically sequence viral samples obtained from children to understand where and when they were infected, and whether they passed it on.

New York City has delayed the opening of schools by 10 days to give teachers and principals more time to prepare and to avert a possible teachers’ strike.

Under pressure from schools and advocates, the federal government has agreed to make it easier for schools to feed poor children.

“I keep saying to people, ‘It’s so hard to study transmission — it’s just really, really hard,’” Dr. Jenkins said.

Still, based on studies so far, “I think it still appears that the younger children might be less likely to transmit than older ones, and older ones are probably more similar to adults in that regard,” she said.

Sadly, the high numbers of infected children in the United States may actually provide some real data on this question as schools reopen.

So what’s a parent to do?

That’s a tough one to answer, as parents everywhere now know. So much depends on the particular circumstances of your school district, your immediate community, your family and your child.

“I think it’s a really complex decision, and we need to do everything we can as a society to enable parents to make this type of decision,” Dr. Wen said.

There are some precautions everyone can take — beginning with doing as much outdoors as possible, maintaining physical distance and wearing masks.

“I will not send my children to school or to an indoor activity where the children are not all masked,” Dr. Ranney said.

Even if there is uncertainty about how often children become infected or spread the virus, “when you consider the risk versus benefit, the balance lies in assuming that kids can both get infected and can spread it,” Dr. Ranney said.

For schools, the decision will also come down to having good ventilation — even if that’s just windows that open — small pods that can limit how widely the virus might spread from an infected child, and frequent testing to cut transmission chains.

Teachers and school nurses will also need protective equipment, Dr. Jenkins said: “Good P.P.E. makes all the difference, and school districts must provide that for the teachers at an absolute minimum.”

As long as these right precautions are in place, “it’s better for kids to be in school than outside of school,” Dr. Jha said. “Teachers are reasonably safe in those environments, as well.”

But community transmission is the most important factor in deciding whether children should go back to school, researchers agreed. “We just can’t keep a school free from the coronavirus if the community is a hotbed of infection,” Dr. Wen said.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and a retired high school principal and a grandmother, argues in this article that public schools in New York City should reopen. She speaks for herself, not for the Network for Public Education. NPE issued a statement calling for additional federal funds to enable the safe reopening of schools. NPE put the emphasis on the necessity to protect the health and safety of students and staff before reopening. Just for the record, I personally am super-cautious about when it is safe to reopen (I don’t know), but my son who has a second grade child in public school is eager for schools to reopen. These are important discussions. There is no clear answer because none of us knows what might happen in a few weeks or months. Take it as a given that we share the same goals: the safe reopening of schools and a return to in-person learning. The only points of difference–and they are important– is when to reopen and how to determine whether the schools are safe for students and adults alike.

Carol argues that it is time for schools in New York City, which has a very low positivity rate, to reopen.

She writes:

No one knows with certainty whether New York City public schools can successfully remain open this fall. Some believe a second wave of the virus will overwhelm us, and others believe, for the five boroughs at least, the worst is past.

What is not an unsettled question, however, is the harm to New York’s children if they continue to learn exclusively online. The evidence of remote learning’s ineffectiveness is well established. For years, researchers have studied remote education via online charter schools, and from that research, we know what to expect.

The most comprehensive study of K-12 online schools was the 2015 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University (CREDO). That study concluded that students at full-time online charter schools fell far behind similar students in district public schools or traditional charter schools, equivalent to receiving 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days in reading.

Macke Raymond, CREDO director, said that the gains in math were so small, it was “literally as though the student did not go to school for the entire year.”

A 2019 study of Pennsylvania online schools confirmed those results. It found that when compared with public school peers who were learning in person, online students lost “the annual equivalent of 106 days of learning in reading and 118 days in math.”

When it comes to graduating high school students in four years, online learning has terrible results. Half of all online high schools’ graduation rates are below 50%. These failing schools enrolled three in four online students.

Keep in mind, the above results are from a sector with considerable experience in remote learning and a student body whose families actively sought it.
For our youngest students, online learning is especially problematic. It goes against all of the research regarding how young children learn. Experts also warn us of the dangers of electronic screen time to the development of memory, language and thinking skills, in addition to its association with vision disorders and obesity.
Finally, we must consider our experience with remote learning since COVID to date. When I was a teacher, we had an expression, “You can’t teach an empty seat.” That holds true even when the seat is on the other side of a screen. As of May 27, The Boston Globe reported that 20% of all Boston students were “virtual dropouts,” not logging in since the beginning of that month. More than one month into the pandemic, thousands of California students could not be accounted for, and this summer, in New York City, 23% of students never logged on to summer school at all.

Since we closed our school doors, children have not slipped through cracks, they have fallen into canyons.

This is not to argue that we must open schools now across the United States as if the pandemic does not exist. Rather, it is to make the case that in those few states and cities like New York, where the virus is remarkably low, we have a moral obligation to children and our nation to try.

Will it take courage, faith and discipline? It will. Will students who refuse to follow safety rules need to learn from home? Sadly, yes. Should teachers and children with underlying conditions have a remote option? Of course. Openings will not be perfect, and schools may have to close from time to time. But if we throw up objection after complaint as we “get ready to get ready to get ready,” we undermine the trust of parents and fuel the fears of parents and teachers alike.

Even as we did during COVID’s darkest days, New York City can provide the leadership to other major cities, giving evidence of what to do when re-opening their schools as their rates of virus decline.
What we cannot do is try to wait COVID out. Childhood is short, and every year is precious. No politician, pundit or leader can put it on pause.