In New York City, parents were given the choice to send their children to schools for a few days a week or to stay home completely and take remote classes.
Teachers, though, say they face a set of options with no middle ground: lead in-person classes, request a medical exemption or take unpaid leave.
With the country’s largest school district set to open in just over two weeks, Jeff White was among the dozens of teachers who marched last Thursday through Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to protest what they said were all bad options.
“I’m scared,” said White, a special-education teacher in Brooklyn who takes care of his 98-year-old grandmother. “I know for myself, I’ve done everything that I can in my power to keep myself safe and protected throughout this pandemic.”
Bringing teachers and students together into the same classrooms would change that, he said.
As part of the protest, teachers held signs criticizing the Department of Education, carried mock caskets, guillotines and skeletons and chanted against the plans.
“One, two, three, four – close the classrooms, close the doors!” they said. “Five, six, seven, eight – we won’t go until it’s safe!”
The protest came as officials in New York City insist that schools can reopen safely given the protections in place and the low Covid-19 rates across the state. Led by the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has similarly pressed for schools to reopen, saying the benefits of in-person education outweigh the risks of Covid-19.
Schools in Los Angeles and Chicago, the nation’s second- and third-largest school districts, will be online-only to start the fall.
Mayor promotes outdoor classes and ventilation
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged that schools will have all the PPE they need, masks and cleaning supplies. In recent days, facing increasing pushback from anxious parents and scared teachers, he has continued to toss out new ideas for solutions.
On Monday, de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza proposed holding classes outdoors, given that Covid-19 spreads most rapidly in indoor spaces with poor ventilation. And on Tuesday, he said “School Ventilation Action Teams” will inspect every room in every school to make sure that ventilation systems are working.
Still, teachers are skeptical, especially given Covid-19 clusters at schools that reopened in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.
Annie Tan, also a special-education teacher in Brooklyn, said she did not believe NYC schools or teachers were properly prepared.
“These buildings are too old, and many of them don’t have the ventilation needs necessary. We don’t have the supplies necessary, the logistics of it aren’t possible. The workload that will go on to teachers who are both doing in-person and remote learning is impossible,” she said.
Tan said teachers are essentially being seen as childcare for parents hoping to get back to work.
“We’ve seen that we’re the only form of a social safety net for so many families. And this is the last straw for a lot of teachers,” she said.
White said even if teachers and students are back in the classroom, the social distancing requirements will limit their ability to actually teach.
“So, we’re going to have a group of students in the classroom who we have to teach with masks on, right? But yet if they need one-to-one help, I can’t help them because I have to be six feet away from them,” he said.
“We want to teach,” Tan said. “We just want to teach safely.”