Wondering whether children should be going back to school, as more than half of those in New York City will start doing part-time on Monday? Just ask the experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” the group representing 67,000 pediatricians said in a late June report. “Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”
Even those children not facing any of these terrible challenges need to be in school, not just to keep their learning on track but to maintain their emotional well-being and further their maturation and socialization. Keeping them all at home again as this school year begins would be bad policy, though we certainly don’t fault those thousands of families who, for one reason or another, are choosing to continue remote learning for now. We’re thankful the city is giving them a choice.
But offering part-time in-school learning for those who want it is the best education policy Mayor de Blasio has launched since he established prekindergarten for all. In fact, given his sorry record as mayor, it may be the best policy of any kind he’s launched since then. It’s a noble effort.
Whether it will succeed, or even whether it can under the circumstances, is a big question. While de Blasio is to be lauded for insisting on in-person learning, he is to be faulted, as usual, for the execution. Just this week, he announced that the city will hire 2,000 more teachers in order to meet the needs of the blended learning model that will see students alternate between days in school and days at home. That should have been done over the summer. The city is also scrambling to make sure school ventilation systems will be functioning well enough to help thwart the spread of the coronavirus. What are the chances they’ll all work right? Very low, and certainly far lower than if the work had been done in a timely fashion. But doing things in a timely fashion is not the de Blasio way.
On Wednesday, the city announced that students will not be guaranteed live instruction when they’re learning from home, in a major reversal. No teachers able to respond to the students, take their questions and adjust a lesson when appropriate. Instead it will be prerecorded lessons and assignments. De Blasio insisted the city will hire enough teachers to make more live remote instruction possible but as usual, it’s too little, too late. And how deep into the city’s “substitute pool” can one go before the quality of teacher begins to suffer? We’d suspect not too deep.
The poor planning behind the mayor’s plan for blended learning has become highly evident before the delayed school year even begins for students. So has the mayor’s failure to secure the support he really needs to make it succeed. The teachers union is pushing him around and threatening to strike. Don’t be surprised if they shut this whole endeavor down. Parents aren’t exactly jumping for joy, and just wait until they learn that live remote teaching won’t be guaranteed. And where’s the governor? Just giving de Blasio enough rope to hang himself with? He barks about bars and restaurants nearly every day, but schools? Not really.
Children need to be in school, for countless reasons. We hope the rough edges get ironed out and that in-school learning succeeds, thanks to, and despite, Mayor de Blasio.