New York City schools are open — but not yet all that functional

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This is . . . school?

After two delays and coming dangerously close to running into October, New York City public schools finally opened for in-person learning this week. I admit I did not think they would.

My mistake came from believing what Mayor Bill de Blasio was saying about what we needed to do to get schools open. On Sept. 17, when announcing the second delay to in-person schooling, de Blasio said, “I’m announcing today, in addition to the 2,000 educators that we announced several days ago, we’re going to add 2,500 more; 2,000 originally, 2,500 more, grand total of 4,500 additional educators being added into our schools and classrooms immediately.”

So 4,500 new teachers in 12 days? That would be difficult for a competent administration to accomplish, never mind one that seems to have taken a prolonged nap since March. No way schools were opening if 4,500 new teachers had to be hired.

But then — poof: That was no longer the goal. And it shows.

On Thursday, Politico reported that de Blasio had “refused to say how many educators the city has hired to address the shortage.”

The mayor and his Department of Education had invented the world’s most convoluted plan to get schools open. We would split the classes into smaller groups, put kids on a staggered part-time schedule, hire different teachers to teach them on remote days, do the hokey-pokey and turn ourselves around and somehow call this schooling.

The result has been decidedly mixed. I’ve spoken to parents in all five boroughs with kids of varying ages. Some kids are in school two to three days a week and then have some live instruction from a separate teacher on the days they are home.

That’s the very best case scenario. But for the vast majority of parents I’ve spoken to, their kids are in school just one or two days a week and have little to no live instruction on their remote-learning days. My own sons have two to three days of in-person schooling and live instruction in “specials,” like art and music, on their remote days.

But it amounts to far too little live instruction, particularly when it comes to core subjects like math and writing. This is not schooling.

For people who stress equity in education, de Blasio and School Chancellor Richard Carranza are a little too proud of themselves for delivering a substandard product to New York schoolchildren.

“We did something that other cities around this country could only dream of, because we have fought back this pandemic so well for so long,” de Blasio bragged.

“This is a key moment in our rebirth. And a lot of people said it couldn’t be done. And it was tough, but we did it.”

Of course, that all depends on the definition of “it.” Enough parents think they did not actually do nearly enough that City Councilman Joe Borelli (R-SI) is leading a lawsuit against the Department of Education to reopen schools more broadly for in-person learning.

“In New York,” Borelli told me, “adequate public education is a state constitutional right. That doesn’t simply go away because of COVID or the ability of our mayor and chancellor to manage the school system. No other districts are seeing as many problems as ours, and the incompetence of the system is not a legal defense on this one.”

I desperately wanted schools to open because children need school — it’s an essential service, and the science overwhelmingly pointed toward it being a safer endeavor than opening other things. It made no sense, for example, to open bars and nail salons before schools.

Now that schools are open, I’m relieved and hopeful. I want them to stay open. I’m not complaining for the sake of it. I’m thrilled and proud that we are the only major American city to open schools. But that does not mean we are doing it well.

The problem is we came up with an insane, unworkable plan, instead of doing the most obvious thing: opening the schools for full-time, in-person education.

There’s nothing “safer” about spreading kids out across the city, whether in pods or child care or simply having play dates on their remote days instead of giving them full-time school.

New York has cleared Step 1: We opened schools. Now let’s open them the way they should be.

Twitter: @Karol

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