Are NYC teachers delaying school opening because of safety or politics?


Fact Box

  • As of September 2, there have been a total of 440,237 coronavirus cases in New York State, with 32,551 deaths.
  • Schools in New York City will delay the start of in-person classes until September 21, to avoid a teacher union strike — the nation's largest school district will be the only major urban district in the United States to start the fall term in person.
  • Teachers were concerned about the safety of returning to in-person learning amid the pandemic, mentioning the lack of supplies and the added burden of conducting both in-person and remote learning. Many of the school buildings are old and do not have sufficient ventilation as well.
  • The majority (82%) of teachers say they are concerned about returning to in-person teaching this fall, and two-thirds prefer to teach remotely.

Bill (Politics)

NYC teachers are delaying school opening for political reasons when you consider how they're approaching this entire situation.

First, teachers speak of themselves as being far more vulnerable than any other essential workers, when, in fact, they are probably a lot less so, since the demographic they will be interacting with has the smallest chance of being affected by Covid-19. According to CDC data, adults account for nearly 95% of reported cases of Covid-19. Additionally, children experience less severe symptoms when they do get ill from the virus.

Second, schools in NYC have been closed since mid-March, which means teachers and administrators have had over five months to consider how to make schools less prone to infection. Some easy-to-implement strategies include the following: 'cohorting' (where a class stays together throughout the day to limit their exposure to other students); repurposing larger spaces within the school (like gymnasiums, auditoriums, cafeterias, etc. to provide more space to social distance); and emphasizing healthy hygiene with large supplies of hand sanitizers, disinfectants, etc.

Lastly, coronavirus is well past its April peak and is a much smaller threat than it was. Fewer than 1% of tests are coming back positive in recent weeks (the third-lowest in the country). So, teachers are obviously using the media-led fear/hype to demand the city meet certain conditions before they agree to return to school.

For all the reasons cited above, it's evident teachers don't have the data on their side to make a case for delaying school opening based on safety concerns from COVID-19. Instead, their motives are transparently political—seizing on public fear for negotiating leverage.

Jennifer (Safety)

New York City teachers oversee the educational needs of over 1 million students. They live in a city that has seen a tremendous impact by COVID-19, and they well understand the need to safeguard student health. Teachers are calling for a delay in school openings to ensure the safety of students. Ventilation systems in some schools are being checked by school district engineers currently. But there are schools in NYC with windows that either don't open or open only a couple of inches.  

And it's not just teachers asking for a delay to the start of school. It's school principals and, it's rumored, even members of the mayoral administration. 'We are now less than one month away from the first day of school and still without sufficient answers to many of the important safety and instructional questions we've raised,' stated Mark Cannizzaro, president of the city's school principal's union. The city's hybrid learning model, in which children attend school only several days a week, spending the remainder of the week learning at home, challenges all stakeholders, even with 30% of families choosing home learning, full-time.

With almost 24,000 deaths in NYC from COVID-19, the Mayor's intransigence appears misguided. The fear is that children will be infected, also teachers and other school staff. The ramifications of that potentiality needn't escape anyone reading. Georgia's premature reopening has now resulted in 1,200 infections in Cherokee County School District. Under threat of a city-wide teacher's strike, Mayor de Blasio has agreed to delay schools opening until September 21, instead of September 08.

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