A Bayside principal recently sent a letter to parents encouraging them to stay remote, a move that contradicts the messaging the city has used in approaching an in-person return for students this spring.
“You made a good decision when you chose Remote Learning for your child. Please stay with it,” wrote Bayside High School Principal Michael Athy in a letter allegedly sent out prior to the city’s new opt-in window.
A slew of parents eager to expand in-person learning criticized Athy’s letter, after it was shared on social media last Friday, arguing that it’s unfair for an administrator to pressure parents not to return to buildings.
In the letter, Athy lays out a future reopening for his high school in which students enrolled in blended learning last November will be invited to return to the high school “to receive assistance with their online classes.”
“What this letter is, is not unusual. There are many stories of teachers and principals really pressuring parents over the summer to choose remote learning or now stay remote,” said Daniela Jampel, a Washington Heights parent and advocate with the group #KeepNYCSchoolsOpen, who shared the letter on Twitter after a parent at Bayside High School forwarded it to a member of her organization.
Roughly 30 percent of students in public schools across the city are receiving in-person education. The majority of parents chose to keep their children learning from home the last time an opt-in window was offered.
The letter flies in the face of the message that Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter have used to assure parents that CDC data shows that returning to school buildings is safe while announcing the new window for them to choose in-person programming.
“New York City schools are safe, and we already have more than 25,000 new students who have opted in to in-person learning because they want to return to classrooms. This letter is inaccurate and does not reflect our mission to maximize in-person learning for our students,” said Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Filson in response to the letter.
The DOE added that it would take appropriate follow-up action with the principal. He could not be reached for comment.
Community Education Council 26 President Adriana Aviles said that while she, as a parent, feels that school buildings are safe enough to warrant sending her children back, she’s been hearing varied reactions to the letter.
“As far as parents, it’s mixed reviews on both sides. It all depends on how they feel about going back to school,” said Aviles. “Those parents who are scared about going back feel like he’s putting out as much as he can so parents can make an informed decision.”
Athy’s correspondence with parents emphasizes the dangers of the virus in the school and the practical challenges of returning to in-person classes, and argues that being in school is more harmful to kids than learning from home.
In a long frequently-asked-questions section of the letter, Athy includes the query, “Aren’t Bayside kids stressed out by full remote learning?”
“Sickness, hospitalization, or the possible death of a loved one are far more stressful than remote learning,” he writes in response.
Athy also stresses that school officials cannot guarantee children would not contract the virus if they return to school.
“To those other parents, like myself, who feel that schools are safe, it feels very biased,” Aviles said. “How do you congratulate these parents on making a decision to stay home — ‘Congratulations on your decision’ — don’t tell me that’s not biased.”