Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Letter to Staff on Easter/ Passover Break

Dear colleagues:

This last week or two has gone by in a blur for me. Without actually leaving my home and going to work, it feels like one day just blends into another. Last night I was thinking about someone at the union who told me we were going to fight Cuomo on the rollback of Easter/ Passover break. It felt a world away but I’d only heard it 24 hours earlier.

It’s not easy for me to find words now, and I usually have them bubbling around everywhere. Here’s the thing—like you, I’ve been working around the clock trying to manage these online classes I’m giving. Like you, I’m on a pretty steep learning curve. We’re not the first to do this. There are a whole lot of cyber charter schools, and they are terrible. Bill Gates did an online program at a city school and it bombed, The students walked out in protest. Yet here we are trying to do this thing with virtually no prep whatsoever.

And now, while we’re already under all this pressure, we learn that our much-needed break has been pulled out from under us by Governor Cuomo. Cuomo looks like a big hero on TV, as he’s evidently a grownup who’s not insane. (Our standards for heroes have dropped since we were kids.)  It’s hard for me to see him like that. One of the reasons there are not enough hospital beds is that Cuomo has been closing hospitals for ten years. He’s also about to turn down almost seven billion dollars in Medicaid funding and talking cuts to education as opposed to taxing the New Yorkers who could best afford it.

Cuomo is responsible for our cumbersome and much-dreaded evaluation system. So forgive me if he’s your hero. He’s certainly not mine. That said, the legislature gave him sweeping powers earlier this month to deal with this emergency. While he hasn’t declared martial law (just yet), he can indeed force us to work during a break.

Personally, I think it’s a bad idea. I also think it’s likely as not that many students will take the break regardless. As a parent, I think it’s healthy for kids to have time off. And yes, just like you, I could use a little time off myself.

Our alternative is to take the governor to court, I suppose, and challenge him. What would that look like?

Every day I walk my little dog on the Nautical Mile here in Freeport. All the seasonal restaurants that would be opening right now remain shut and dark. All the restaurants that open year-round are shut down too. People who work in those restaurants are home. And unlike us, they aren’t collecting paychecks. Service industry employees all around the country have no work and no income.

Nurses and doctors, on the other hand, are pretty busy. They’re working 16-hour shifts. Police are busy too. In a pandemic, people are still out collecting our garbage. All of these people are at high risk for contracting the virus. That’s not to say we aren’t, having lingered way too long in the most overcrowded school building in New York City. On the brighter side, it’s going on two weeks since we left, and if you haven’t got symptoms by now, you probably won’t get any.

Considering all the people out of work and all the people stretched so far trying to keep the rest of us safe, I don’t think we’d garner much public sympathy taking the governor to court over a demand for a paid week off. Even parents like me, who believe the breaks are beneficial, who cursed the teachers who made my daughter do tedious projects on her ostensibly free week might not identify with people demanding a week off in a time of crisis.

You’re free to disagree, and I absolutely understand if you do. Feel free to reach out and do so right now, if you wish. I’m very sorry this happened. It was certainly not my decision.

But if we’re going to draw a line in the sand, this is not it. And make no mistake, with a national economic crisis looming, there are further challenges coming down the pike. Let’s stay strong and fight where it counts.

Best regards,

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