NYC schools left struggling as second COVID-19 wave begins

The authors are New York City public school teachers. 

As of Nov. 10, the COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the U.S. was at its highest since the beginning of the pandemic, as infection rates continue to rise nationwide. In New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza Carranza have continually failed to provide basic safety measures for the city’s schools, a central pillar of containing the virus’s spread and a site of intense political struggle this summer. Essential promises such as proper ventilation in classrooms and monthly testing were never met.  

Instead of providing the city’s youth and their families with basic health and economic safeguards, now Carranza and De Blasio are forcing them to decide in just two weeks whether or not children will remain enrolled in blended in-person and remote schooling, or fully remote schooling. Shockingly, this will be the only opportunity for families to opt into blended learning for the entire school year, and this short decision time occurs amidst the onset of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

New COVID-19 cases in New York have increased from 575 on Sep. 21 to over 4,000 infections this week. Hospitalizations have more than doubled since early October, in part due to inaccessibility of rapid testing and health care. New York Governor Cuomo recently ordered a 10 pm  curfew for gyms, bars and  restaurants, reminiscent of the citywide shutdown in the spring that led to long-standing consequences still felt today, including food insecurity, job loss, housing struggle, small business closures, debt accumulation and death.

Politicians break promises, leave schools unprepared

In August and September, De Blasio and Carranza went above and beyond in attempting to convince families in the most affected communities that returning to school would be safe and children and families would not be at risk. They promised smaller class sizes, contact tracing, monthly testing with high prioritization for educators at hospitals and clinics, upgraded ventilation, air purifiers, deep cleaning protocols and more. However, at a majority of schools, these promises are falling flat, if they have even been attempted at all. As we move into the winter with increasing infection rates, schools must close because of these persistent issues and failure to address them by city officials.

From the beginning, De Blasio and Carranza have approached reopening schools in a rushed and unsafe way that has placed all of our lives at risk including those of children, teachers, staff and our communities at large. From shutting down schools with positive COVID-19 cases to closing down entire neighborhoods with 24 hours notice, the city’s handling of a public school system under crisis has been haphazard.

As a result, only 26 percent of families opted into blended learning across the city. However, now DeBlasio and Carranza are again pressuring families to place their children into the blended program and continue to push hollow promises of safety. This will not only continue to place more lives at risk, but it will throw the education program as a whole into turmoil as educators have to go back to the drawing board to revamp blended and remote learning models, to say the least. 

Education crisis rooted in racism and austerity

Many of these schools were underfunded and understaffed even before the pandemic, particularly in working class communities of color.  Amidst this massive loss of life and livelihood, the city has cut the education budget by $707 million. De Blasio also announced a $450 million cut in labor for the 2021 fiscal year.  Meanwhile, 31,000 students have left the public school system. This means more cuts to funding and permanent job loss. 

Despite city officials pulling away their resources, it is through the selflessness of teachers and school staff that  there is any semblance of safety within public schools at all. School workers have fought back side by side with families and students against unsafe reopening, and devoted countless hours to helping families navigate these new realities. 

City officials continue to target and divide Black and Brown communities, as evident in the recent city shutdown of certain neighborhoods by zones. This did not make our schools and communities safer, or prevent the rise of cases city wide. Instead, it further disenfranchised and marginalized those who already struggle. These shutdowns force people to travel farther to get their basic needs met, not only increasing their financial burden, but also increasing the chance of COVID-19 spreading.

While working-class communities of color are forced back to work in unsafe conditions amidst massive budget cuts, the city is paying its police department millions in overtime pay, providing them incredible amounts of military-grade equipment in order to maintain their war on Black and Brown working-class people. City officials consistently refuse to defund the police and tax the wealthy in order to cover basic health measures in school and provide a safety net for working-class New Yorkers. 

We,  educators  in the Party for Socialism and Liberation, will continue organizing to demand safe school reopenings in order to fight with our communities.  We demand that DeBlasio and Chancellor Carranza create realistic and solid plans — with all the profits earned during this pandemic — that will provide for basic needs including paycheck protection, housing, food, PPE, childcare, and fully funded public education. Allowing families to stay home with paycheck subsidies and access to health care are basic needs to get through a second wave of this health crisis.

It is up to teachers, students, families, and entire communities to say no more! We cannot stand by while our communities risk their lives for the capitalists’ profit. We stand in full solidarity with families, education workers, and their unions struggling to protect our communities and our youth’s right to fully funded education.

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