The nation’s largest school system is ‘in an impossible situation’ amid pandemic

It’s been a rough week for the millions of children, parents, educators, and city officials involved in the reopening of New York City schools. 

After grappling with a shortage of teachers and buildings that are not ventilated well enough to deter transmission of coronavirus, the nation’s largest school district again delayed the start of in-person learning.

“The [New York] Department of Education has put P.S. 125 and many other schools in the city in an impossible situation,” Tamara Tucker, president of the parents association at P.S. 125 in Morningside Heights, which serves students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, told Yahoo Finance. “And I don’t want to penalize the schools for being hamstrung like that.” 

The city provided parents with three main options for students starting the fall school year: in-person, fully virtual, or a combination of the two (known as blended). About 42% of public school students opted for fully remote learning, according to the latest DOE data, and the other 58% opted for the blended instruction.

Virtual learning started on Wednesday. But in-person and blended schooling, which was originally scheduled to start on September 10 and then delayed until September 21, will now be staggered and begin on October 1 for middle and high school students.

The demands placed on schools to staff these classes are heavy: Principals said they simply didn’t have enough teachers or the resources to hire additional teachers for these three models of learning.

“It was clear to me from the day they announced this whole system in June that there wouldn’t be enough teachers to do what they were asking us to do,” a Brooklyn-based principal, who asked not to be named to avoid professional retaliation, told Yahoo Finance. “So many of us principals have been saying for months that there are not enough teachers to run it the way that they’re talking about running it. … we all knew that they couldn’t deliver.” 

On Tuesday night, the NY DOE announced that parents who chose the “blended” option — meaning students would spend part of the week in school and the other part online with virtual classes — would not actually be guaranteed any virtual instruction when they’re not in school given staffing issues.

“The most upsetting part is the lack of transparency from the mayor and the chancellor,” a Brooklyn-based high school English teacher, who asked not to be named, told Yahoo Finance. “Since we initially went remote in March, I have found out about most of these important changes via Twitter, which is ridiculous. … I don’t even take these updates seriously anymore because I know they’ll likely be a new contradictory one a few days from now, so why bother?”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city would hire 2,500 additional teachers. But in the race to hire, an underlying structural issue surfaced: There just aren’t enough teachers around.

“What other industry would be allowed to operate this way and make decisions this way?” Tucker said. “It just seems mind boggling. … I don’t know how to hold anybody accountable. I don’t understand, there’s just no repercussions for this like completely backwards decision making.”

‘Lack of leadership’ led to ‘impossible situation’

On Thursday, more chaos ensued as parents across the city learned that they wouldn’t be sending their children to school next week.

The entire fiasco is “due to the lack of leadership,” Daniel Friedrich‬, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and a parent of children in the New York City school system, told Yahoo Finance. “We shouldn’t be in this business to begin with — there was a lack of action from the administration in general, to address the epidemic … [and on top of that] the chancellor and the mayor here in many ways failed to act throughout summer.”‪

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Teachers Federation, the second-largest teachers union in the country, stressed that the lack of mandates or federal guidance and lack of funding for school complicated the situation once the fall came around.

“I’m sorry that I sound so angry about all of this stuff, but all of this was foreseeable to anyone who is a schools person,” Weingarten told Yahoo Finance’s First Trade (video above). “This is part of the reason why we started fighting for how to reopen schools and the resources back in April.”

Weingarten asserted that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could have “created all sorts of other mandates or guidance for planning and for resources,” but simply didn’t.

“Look what is happening in terms of resources in schools, and you tell me that kids are priorities,” Weingarten said. “They’re not priorities to this administration. And I’m sorry I’m angry about it, but how can we rush to help a cruise industry, bars and restaurants, which I think are really important, but not rush to get the resources for kids? Why is it that ventilation and soap, which should have been important forever, are now only important? … they are trying to actually undermine public education.” 

New York City’s experience is being closely watched since it’s not only the biggest school district in the country, but also one of the few to resume in-person instruction amid the pandemic. Los Angeles County, the second biggest district, opted for remote learning until November but is making exceptions for small classes for some children with special needs,

Virtual learning is also the primary option for students across Chicago, Miami, Houston, and others, according to a tracker compiled by Education Week. DeVos continues to push for in-person schooling. During a recent press conference on Monday at a school in Grand Rapids, Mich., she called the lack of in-person learning a “real tragedy” for children.

They’re heroes and they’re underpaid and overworked’

The pressure on teachers, meanwhile, is relentless. 

“We get a lot of crap from other people saying, ‘Oh, well you guys are lazy. You don’t want to go to work,’” a second grade teacher in Brooklyn, who asked not to be named to avoid retaliation, told Yahoo Finance. “We did more — we went above and beyond because we care and love our students and we don’t get the support that we should get financially.”

The city’s leadership is “not in tune with what’s happening in schools,” she added. “And they’re not in tune with what the rest of the city looks like.”

Seventh grade English teacher Kelly Walker, who teaches at a school in Long Island City in Queens, is one of the relatively lucky teachers in the city right now.

“I’m really in a good position, to be honest,” she said in an interview. “I work for a really great admin, so they’ve been really on top of their game.”

She added that “I have friends teaching all over this city [and] it’s been absurd that on a day to day basis… It makes it kind of impossible for principals and administrators to be able to plan sufficiently.”

Lawrence Mishel, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute, noted that “10 years ago, teachers were being vilified — they were put on the cover of magazines as being lazy.” Now, as teachers serve on the front lines of the pandemic, “there is a better appreciation that teachers. They’re heroes. And they’re underpaid and overworked, and they face tremendous challenges and none more than during the pandemic.”

Friedrich, the Columbia University Teachers College professor and parent, stressed that society has to make sure to not put too much pressure on the people instructing children.

“Teachers are not priests,” he said. “They’re not there to save the world and sacrifice themselves, right? This is not a religious colony. Teaching is a job and you shouldn’t have to give up your life for, or your job.”

Related: Back to school around the world

24 PHOTOSBack to school around the worldSee GalleryBack to school around the worldBANGKOK, THAILAND – AUGUST 10:Thai kindergarteners wear face masks as they play in screened in play areas used for social distancing at the Wat Khlong Toey School on August 10, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand. In the beginning of July The Wat Khlong Toey School reopened its doors to its approximately 250 students following the relaxation of lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the school was forced to shutter its doors in mid March due to Thailand’s emergency decree and lockdown, the administration and teachers prepared measures to ensure a safe reopening. By installing sinks and soap dispensers outside of each classroom, creating social distancing screens in classrooms and lunch areas and installing hand sanitizer and temperature scanners at the entry the Wat Khlong Toey school has been open for a month and has had zero cases of COVID-19. Although Thailand is now allowing schools throughout the country to further relax safety measures, the Wat Khlong Toey school has chosen to continue strict social distancing to ensure the safety of their students and teachers. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)BRASILIA, BRAZIL – AUGUST 06: A student has her body temperature measured before classes during first day back to school amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at the Arvense School on August 06, 2020 in Brasilia. The school has taken measures to prevent Covid-19 such as reducing students per class, intensifying the cleaning, and disinfection booths. The government of the Federal District has already authorized the resumption of classes in private schools, but in public schools they are expected to reopen at the end of August. Brazil has over 2.912,000 confirmed positive cases of Coronavirus and has over 98,493 deaths. (Photo by Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 2020/08/03: A protester holds a placard that says Demand safe schools during the demonstration.Black Lives Matter, UFT United federation of teachers (union), the Democratic Socialists of America, and other groups gathered on the National Day of Resistance to protest against reopening of schools as well as police-free schools. (Photo by Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)Robesonia, PA – August 8: Volunteer Joseph Cunliffe puts a bag of bread in the back of a person’s car. During a food distribution by the Olivet Boys and Girls Club, Heidelberg Family Restaurant, and Clover Dairy Farms, giving out milk and bread to people in need, at Conrad Weiser Middle School in Robesonia Saturday morning August 8, 2020. The number of people in need of food assistance has gone up as a result of the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)GAZA CITY, GAZA – AUGUST 08: Gazan students back to schools which have been closed since March due to the coronavirus (COVID -19) pandemic in Gaza City on August 08, 2020. (Photo by Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)Police officers and soldiers patrol a popular running track in Melbourne on August 4, 2020 after the state announced new restrictions as the city battles fresh outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus. – Australia’s Victoria state imposed fresh, sweeping restrictions on August 2, 2020, including a curfew in Melbourne for the next six weeks, a ban on weddings, and schools and universities going back online in the coming days. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)BRASILIA, BRAZIL – AUGUST 06: A school staff member sanitizes a book during first day back to school amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19)pandemic at the Arvense School on August 06, 2020 in Brasilia. The school has taken measures to prevent Covid-19 such as reducing students per class, intensifying cleaning, disinfection booths and measuring body temperature when entering and leaving students and staff. The government of the Federal District has already authorized the resumption of classes in private schools, but in public schools they are expected to reopen at the end of August. Brazil has over 2.912,000 confirmed positive cases of Coronavirus and has over 98,493 deaths. (Photo by Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)A skeleton hangs from the back window of a protester’s car as it drives in the Occupy City Hall Protest and Car Caravan hosted by Chicago Teachers Union in Chicago, Illinois, on August 3, 2020. – Teachers and activists hold car caravan all over the country on August 3, 2020 to demand adequate classroom safety measures as schools debate reopening. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP) (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES – 2020/07/28: A protester holds a placard that says Keep Educators Off Of Ventilators before the Monroe County Community School Corporation school board meeting in Bloomington,Indiana is experiencing a 73-percent increase in new Coronavirus infections, but local schools were due to resume in-person classes next week on August 5th. However, while some want their kids back in school, others fear schools will be a daily super spreader event, and asked the local school board to delay classes until more data is available on the spread of the virus in the community. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)A girl clad in mask poses for a picture during an awareness session about COVID-19 coronavirus disease held by a local kindergarten in Gaza City on August 10, 2020, as education facilities in the Palestinian enclave re-opened for the new 2020-2021 academic year following an easing of pandemic restrictions. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)10 August 2020, Berlin: Sabine Reichling, teacher teaches at the Nürtingen primary school in Kreuzberg. The Berlin schools will return to normal operation after the summer holidays. Photo: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images)10 August 2020, Berlin: A mask is one of the teaching aids used in the lessons at the Nürtingen primary school in Kreuzberg. The Berlin schools will return to normal operation after the summer holidays. Photo: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images)10 August 2020, Berlin: Sandra Scheeres (SPD), Senator for Education, talks to 7-year-old Lea (r) while Nay (l) learns with her teacher at the Nürtingen primary school in Kreuzberg on the screen. The Berlin schools will return to normal operation after the summer holidays. Photo: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images)BERLIN, GERMANY – AUGUST 10: Children wearing protective face masks dance as they arrive for the first day of classes of the new school year at the GuthsMuths elementary school during the coronavirus pandemic on August 10, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Classes at schools across Germany are beginning this month with face mask requirements varying by state. Coronavirus infection rates are climbing again in Germany, from an average of 400 new cases per day about two weeks ago to over 1,100 yesterday, according to the Robert Koch Institute. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)BERLIN, GERMANY – AUGUST 10: Children wearing protective face masks arrive for the first day of classes of the new school year at the GuthsMuths elementary school during the coronavirus pandemic on August 10, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Classes at schools across Germany are beginning this month with face mask requirements varying by state. Coronavirus infection rates are climbing again in Germany, from an average of 400 new cases per day about two weeks ago to over 1,100 yesterday, according to the Robert Koch Institute. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)Students backpacks are seen hanging on coat rack outside a class room at the Carl Orff primary school in west Berlin on August 10, 2020, as school resumed after the summer break in Berlin and several other German states amid a Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP) (Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images)BANGKOK, THAILAND – AUGUST 10:Thai kindergarteners wear face masks as they play in screened in play areas used for social distancing at the Wat Khlong Toey School on August 10, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand. In the beginning of July The Wat Khlong Toey School reopened its doors to its approximately 250 students following the relaxation of lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the school was forced to shutter its doors in mid March due to Thailand’s emergency decree and lockdown, the administration and teachers prepared measures to ensure a safe reopening. By installing sinks and soap dispensers outside of each classroom, creating social distancing screens in classrooms and lunch areas and installing hand sanitizer and temperature scanners at the entry the Wat Khlong Toey school has been open for a month and has had zero cases of COVID-19. Although Thailand is now allowing schools throughout the country to further relax safety measures, the Wat Khlong Toey school has chosen to continue strict social distancing to ensure the safety of their students and teachers. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)NEW DELHI, INDIA – AUGUST 7: A health worker in PPE coveralls collects a nasal swab sample from a man to test for coronavirus infection, at Ramjas School, in Daryaganj, on August 7, 2020 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Biplov Bhuyan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)Seniors of the Lycee Petion-ville conduct their own remedial lesson on August 6, 2020, in the Petion-ville Commune of Port-au-Prince, having been unable to benefit from distance learning during the months of confinement like students from some wealthier schools. – When Haiti’s pandemic-shuttered schools re-open for classes on August 10, the growing chasm between the country’s rich and poor students will be on painfully clear display. The wealthiest have broad campuses ready for social distancing and programs that continued online despite the virus, while some of the poorest don’t even have running water for students to scrub their hands. However, between those extremes are a small number of educators with a vision for a better system that they are trying to build with or without government help. (Photo by Pierre Michel Jean / AFP) (Photo by PIERRE MICHEL JEAN/AFP via Getty Images)Teacher Maura Silva, who created a “hug kit” using plastic covers, embraces her student Yuri Araujo Silva at Yuri’s home, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the 77 Padre Miguel slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYStudents wearing protective face masks amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, clap along instead of singing a song during a music class at Takanedai Daisan elementary school, which practices various methods of social distancing in order to prevent the infection, in Funabashi, east of Tokyo, Japan July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYDenisse Toala (3rd R, green shirt), a 16-year-old student, teaches children in an improvised school she has set up under a tree since they have been unable to attend virtual classes in the low-income neighbourhood Realidad de Dios, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Guayaquil, Ecuador July 2, 2020. Picture taken July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Santiago ArcosChildren, who have missed their online classes due to a lack of internet facilities, maintain a safe distance as they listen to pre-recorded lessons over loudspeakers, after schools were closed following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Dandwal village in the western state of Maharashtra, India, July 28, 2020. Picture taken July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Prashant Waydande TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYA student gestures as he waits with other students of the Cultural High School Class 2020 to receive their diplomas during a graduation ceremony on their cars, to keep social distancing, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 19, 2020. Picture taken June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYUp Next

See Gallery

Source: Read Full Article