Nearly a week since Mayor de Blasio shuttered all public school buildings in response to a rising citywide Covid positivity rate, he has offered a glimpse that a reopening plan might take a phased approach. It would begin with special needs students, followed by pre-K and kindergarten and then elementary schools, with a high threshold of testing.
“This is an initial vision — a lot of work to do to make it come together, but I want to give people a sense of how things are going to go in the coming weeks and the focus we’re going to have as we build out this plan,” said de Blasio in his press event on Monday.
But the outline came as many parents around the city are still struggling to adapt to his abrupt decision last Wednesday to close the schools the following day.
As Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Council Education Committee Chairman Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn) pointed out, a phased reopening was part of a white page report that the legislators worked on together over the summer.
It wasn’t the only familiar issue raised by the report, which focused on lack of access to remote tech and prioritizing students with special needs — concerns that remain relevant months after its release. Since the closures last week, the Chronicle reached out to parents and education advocates about what the biggest obstacles since the closures are. Many responded with the aforementioned complaints as well as abrupt schedule changes, all of which have persistently plagued the schools’ reopening since September.
“When the mayor made the decision to close the schools, he did it so rapidly that parents had no time to prepare for child care,” Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), a member of the Education Committee, told the Chronicle.
Though the mayor has said that Learning Bridges, the city’s free child care program, has prioritized essential workers, Dromm said he had recently spoken to a city teacher in his district who had not been accepted into the program despite his advocacy on her behalf.
Asked about the program in a press event Monday, the mayor said that he had “not heard of anyone turned away.”
Community Education Council 24 President Phil Wong, whose daughter is a student at Francis Lewis High School, pointed out that the mayor still has a long way to go to meet the 100,000 seats in the program that he promised.
The mayor has said the program simply hasn’t been as popular as he expected.
“What has been clear is there has not been the uptake we expected,” he said Monday.
So far only 39,000 seats have been offered to families, PIX11 reported days before the closing last week.
Wong said that a notable number of parents in his district, which runs from Ridgewood to Sunnyside and Corona, have become so frustrated with delays and last-minute decisions that they have enrolled their children in private Catholic schools since the reopening. Wong is worried about schools in his district losing funding based on the drops in enrollment.
Even parents like Kate Walls, whose first-grade child has been remote-only at a South Queens school since September, said that the closures rippled out to affect her student’s schedule as well because one of her teachers is being transferred to accommodate the changes in schedule.
“One of her teachers is changing, some kids are leaving, and the schedule has been changed again on the 30th,” Walls said.
Dromm added that the shortage of devices continues to be a problem for children in School District 30, where 2,746 still don’t have them. At a Council hearing in mid-October, Lauren Siciliano, chief operating officer of the DOE, said that the agency still had around 70,000 pending device requests that have yet to be filled. Last week, de Blasio said that there are still 60,000 pending device requests.
Asked about the shortages on the Brian Lehrer Show last Friday, de Blasio responded that he didn’t think it was a “fair discussion.”
“There’s just not enough supply of devices. This has been a problem all over the country as the whole country has gone to remote learning,” de Blasio told Lehrer.