When in-person learning in New York City’s public school system ground to a halt last week after COVID-19 positive test rates hit 3 percent — a perfectly arbitrary number, but one Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio apparently felt was the point at which he had to pull the lever and shut it all down — one assumed the mayor and his administration had a plan to get the schools back open.
One would have been naïve to have thought that.
According to the New York Daily News, during a news conference Wednesday, de Blasio acknowleged to reporters that city hall hadn’t quite come up with a way to get the nation’s largest school system back up and running.
But stay tuned!
“Honestly, I have to hold myself responsible,” said de Blasio, apparently under the misapprehension we were ascribing responsibility to anyone else.
“The better situation would have been, clearly, to have that plan all worked through in advance,” added the mayor, who, according to the New York Post, “offer[ed] no solution to the problem.”
Again, we all could have told you this. So, yes, he’s taking responsibility for closing the schools last week, but not quite kicking himself. When it comes to holding himself responsible, Bill de Blasio is very kind to Bill de Blasio: “We didn’t have a Plan B, and we should have had a Plan B, but I also understand why we didn’t.”
Oh? Yes, it seems the reason why they didn’t come up with a plan to reopen schools is that they were too busy trying to keep them open.
“We had a moving target. We were trying to see if there were measures we could take to avoid ever going past the 3 percent,” de Blasio said. “That’s really where our energy was going.”
They were so busy answering questions about their in-person and remote learning models and trying to keep the positive test results under 3 percent — “tons” of energy, de Blasio said — that they didn’t come up with an alternative plan if that didn’t happen.
Except New York City Councilman Mark Treyger told the Daily News he’d already offered de Blasio a reopening plan in July.
“He chose not to have an alternate plan,” said Treyger, a Democrat who serves as head of the council’s Education Committee. “They knew. I don’t think this is the best New York City can do. It’s not the best he can do.”
De Blasio has done the unthinkable: He’s managed to unite parents and teachers’ unions in disgust at his handling of in-person classes, which lasted just eight weeks.
In parents’ case, it’s the fact schools aren’t open. “I am furious. I was furious two weeks ago. I was furious last week when schools closed and I am furious today that schools are still closed,” Daniela Kampel told WCBS-TV.
“The mayor promised. He got on television and he promised that we would have a reopening decision and a plan ‘certainly before Thanksgiving,’” a parent named Mia added to WCBS on Wednesday. “Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So if the mayor will not listen to us where he works, we are coming to him where he lives.”
NYC Parents Union vice president Sam Pirozzolo said that the handling of the reopening by Mayor de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza was “beyond incompetence.”
“This is not real education. It’s getting worse and worse and worse,” Pirozzolo told the Post.
Teachers unions, meanwhile, don’t want to go back to the classroom. According to The New York Times, they’re upset that de Blasio didn’t shut down the schools fast enough in March and upset he reopened in the fall. They’d protested the move, carrying handmade coffins in summer demonstrations. (There was, ironically, a lack of social distancing at these protests.)
“I think there is a real sense among educators that this administration is not able to meet this moment,” Paula White, executive director of teachers union Educators For Excellence-New York, told The Times. “What we are hearing consistently is just a complete lack of trust.”
The United Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, is looking to change mayoral control over the school system.
It’s worth noting that the arbitrary 3 percent number that has parents so outraged was actually chosen to placate educators’ unions, not to protect students. In fact, it’s the students’ families who are the ones most aggrieved by the decision to shutter the schools. Beyond the quality of the education their children are receiving, you also have the burdens of daycare, shifting schedules and uncertainty.
So we have parents disgusted, teachers disgusted and, yes, even mayoral candidates disgusted. De Blasio’s replacement will be decided next November — the mayor himself is ineligible for a third term — and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a frontrunner, was critical of de Blasio’s decision given the low 0.28 positive test rate in schools.
“Eighty percent of the men and women on Rikers Island don’t have a high school diploma or equivalency. That means if you don’t educate, you incarcerate,” Adams said.
“Today these parents are not only fighting to have their child receive a seat in a school building, they’re fighting to ensure the child won’t have a seat in a jail cell.”
So, when will New York City’s schools be safe to reopen? Well, um, according to de Blasio, they already are; during the Wednesday presser, the mayor explicitly stated that “the schools have proven to be very, very safe.”
Which is why, of course, they’re closed.
But trust the mayor. He doesn’t have a plan because he was putting all of his energy into keeping the schools open and parents informed. So herculean was that task that not a single high-level adviser could have been spared to formulate what would happen if that magical 3 percent barrier was broached.
As for that plan he was reportedly offered in July for reopening the schools after a closure, disregard that. And the schools are perfectly safe right now, except that they needed to be shut down.
He’ll get the parents and the teachers unions to sing “Kumbaya, My Lord” while holding hands — well, for the moment, touching elbows — in Union Square. He’ll have a plan to do all this. Sometime.
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