Now that Gov. Cuomo has officially confirmed Mayor de Blasio’s order to cancel public school for the rest of the year, parents across the largest school system in the nation will take on the burden of finishing out nearly another two months of remote learning.
At this point, the city has neared its goal of providing devices to families across the city, and many households have settled into a daily distance learning rhythm.
To date, the Department of Education has delivered more than a quarter-million devices, providing them to all New York City families who have requested them. But beyond the technological needs of remote learning, many Queens parents continue to struggle against structural obstacles.
“The quality of remote learning is still really inconsistent building by building. And even grade by grade, we’re finding,” said Alliance for Quality Education Executive Director Jasmine Gripper.
While some parents have managed to find a routine that works for them, others, like single-parent households, families who live in a shelter or the parents of students with special education needs, face challenges that prevent them from doing that.
But first, the positive. Even parents who are struggling report that this transformational period in the city’s education system has helped them get involved in their children’s learning.
Felicia Singh, a teacher and City Council candidate from Ozone Park, recently conducted a remote learning survey.
“We asked what parents enjoy and a lot of the responses were just family time. ‘I am able to see how my child is learning and what they’re learning,’ which is something that I think parents don’t really get,” said Singh.
Carmen Perez is a mother of five in Far Rockaway, who has worked through the pandemic as a home aide. For Perez’s two middle schoolers and three elementary schoolers, she requested three iPads from the DOE. She said that while the transition to remote learning was chaos, once she established a fixed routine for her children and got them on tablets, it grew manageable.
“They come in and say, ‘Mom, I learn something new every day.’ They explain it. They’re like, ‘Oh Mom, this is how homeschool feels,’” Perez said.
Perez co-parents with her husband, who is a stay-at-home dad. After she leaves for her job at 12 p.m. her husband takes over, which allows for flexibility that many parents lack.
“Single parents, particularly single mothers, have a harder time balancing remote learning with remotely working,” said Singh.
Fatima Shabbir, a single mother of four elementary schoolers from Richmond Hill, said that it’s really difficult to convey the intensity of balancing working full-time with her parenting responsibilities.
“Maintaining expected productivity levels and juggling screaming, whining and siblings fighting in the background is incredibly hard,” Shabbir said.
The AQE has been finding that early childhood education is the most problematic stage of remote learning. That age bracket is hard to reach through online learning to begin with, but on top of that they often need a parent’s support to complete schoolwork.
“Everyone has different personalities and learning abilities. And they all need individual attention and support to ensure they’re mastering the material,” said Shabbir.
Shabbir added that one of her sons has an Individualized Education Program and continues to receive special services online, but he needs frequent breaks and one-on-one attention to attend to a task.
Singh added that she recently heard from a friend whose child was not getting the extended time mandated by his IEP. She said that one challenge of online learning is that parents may not have a comprehensive understanding of the services that their children are entitled to.
For parents who have questions about whether their children are getting the services they are supposed to, Gripper recommended first going through DOE channels, before seeking outside intervention from the city or elected officials.
Families can also still request devices by completing the Remote Learning Device Request Form, or by calling (718) 935-5100 and choosing option 5.
This story has been edited to make clear that the quarter-million devices supplied to families are the total requested so far, according to the Department of Education.