For many Americans, watching the first person in the United States receive the COVID-19 vaccine was the first step on the long road back to normalcy. It was the beginning of the end: of a year of anguished lockdowns, job layoffs and furloughs — and, for parents, of watching their children suffer socially and academically as a result of being deprived of in-person schooling. Finally, we can move forward again.
Or so we thought. Teachers’-union leaders and the city Department of Education had other ideas.
On Jan. 11, New York City expanded vaccine eligibility to include the elderly and frontline workers. Because New Yorkers understood how important going to school is to our children, and because we were determined to make it as safe as we could for educators to teach in person, the authorities included teachers in this first round of vaccination. This was one of the union leaders’ demands, and it was readily met.
The next hurdle to bringing our kids back was space: Over the summer, we thought seating kids at least six feet apart was essential to keeping our schools safe. But last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally acknowledged what so many parents already knew to be true: Classrooms are safe, and kids, especially kids wearing masks, don’t need to be as spread out as adults do.
There is now enough space in our schools to safely bring back all students who want to be back, five days a week, for a full-time, in-person education. It’s safe for our vaccinated teachers. It’s safe for kids. So why aren’t we doing it?
Ask any parent with a child in hybrid learning, and you will get an earful on how our “open” schools are anything but. For many students, especially those in middle and high school, “going to school” often means sitting in a school building a few days a week, watching a lesson on your laptop.
The city’s arbitrary “two-case rule” shuts down a school building for 10 days if just two cases are found within seven days. Schools close continuously and at a moment’s notice, creating misery and havoc for children, their caregivers and their teachers. Citing safety concerns and unnamed “independent medical experts,” United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew refuses to back down from this rule, keeping hundreds of schools unnecessarily closed every day.
Now that teachers are vaccinated, and we can safely get more kids into a classroom, it’s time for our kids to get the in-person education they deserve. The city must set a firm deadline of April 5 to reopen our schools for a full-time, five-days-a-week, in-person education for any family that wants it.
After what union leaders and the DOE have put them through this past year, kids deserve the remaining 12 weeks of uninterrupted school and a chance at salvaging this school year. It is the least we can do.
Mayor Bill de Blasio did the right thing this month when, in response to the CDC’s revised guidelines, he gave families another chance to opt in to in-person learning and pledged that new students would be accommodated by following the CDC’s guidance to allow more kids into a classroom.
There is no reason for the mayor to delay bringing back every kid who wants to be back and increasing classroom capacity to let all kids go five days a week. Families want this, and because teachers are vaccinated, they are at no greater risk teaching 20 kids than they were teaching 10 kids.
Though some teachers are trying as hard as they can, remote “learning” is simply no replacement for an in-person education. It isn’t learning. There is no longer any excuse to force families to continue remote instruction and endure warrantless building closures as caregivers helplessly watch their children deteriorate academically and emotionally.
We’ve been told to follow the science. The science says that vaccines are overwhelmingly effective and that kids transmit the virus at a lower rate than adults. Our teachers are vaccinated, and the new CDC guideline means we can accommodate many more kids. The mayor must draw a clear and hard line for the union leaders. Our kids deserve nothing less.
Daniela Jampel, a mother of two kids in public schools, is a founder of #KeepNYCSchoolsOpen, the parent-advocacy group dedicated to fully reopening Gotham schools.