Friday, March 05, 2021

To Open or Not to Open? Depends What "Open" Means

Every day, and everywhere, you read and hear about opening the schools. Biden made it a priority, and to his credit, has managed to push out a whole lot of vaccine. He now envisions having a sufficient supply for all adult Americans by May. I spend many fun hours trying to get the vaccine, refreshing and revisiting various sites, and still feel it's a minor miracle I managed to do so. 

So Biden wants to open the schools in 100 days, and he's got 60 or 70 left. I think he can do it, actually. After all, NYC buildings are "open." Well, elementary, D75 and middle schools are, anyway. It appears that, within a matter of weeks, high schools will be "open" as well. Of course, that does not mean that we teachers are out there doing what we do. 

The NY Times is all excited about school openings, and seems to have been on a campaign for them, and against teacher union, for months. Just open the window, they say. They then give an example in which one window is open, and show what will happen. Who knows what happens if you choose a different window, or what happens when the temperature is freezing, stifling, or perhaps both, given the caprices of school temperature regulation? And hey, look at how that COVID sweeps around the teacher standing like a statue in front of the class. (The Times seems not to notice that.)

Of course, the class is socially distanced. You have only a handful of students there. So the Times, if you ignore my questions, has set forth an easy recipe for school openings. Except, of course, there are more questions. For one thing, if you only have nine students in a classroom, what exactly has become of the other 25? Here in Fun City, they're sitting in a Zoom class somewhere. So while you've technically got the buildings open, you've only got a fraction of students actually in attendance. 

Now there are exceptions. There are red states in which the governors have decided to completely ignore the pandemic that's literally killing their constituents. Have the governors determined they'll lose more opposition voters? That's entirely possible, considering that the virus seems to disproportionately hit minorities. Are Republican governors that evil? If so, calling them "neanderthal" is a relative compliment. 

In any case, Biden has made it a priority to vaccinate teachers. This is significant, because while New York has already done so, many states have not. Florida's MAGA governor, for example, is now going to have to vaccinate those teachers to whom he'd previously offered only a middle finger. He's probably the last governor who'd help educators, so it looks like teachers will finally be protected. That solves everything, right?

Actually it does not. The fact is the vaccine is not available to schoolchildren. It looks like that is changing, but what are the chances of vaccinating every school child before September? If that doesn't occur, how on earth are we going to fully open buildings? I work in the most overcrowded school in this overcrowded city, and even if every adult were to be vaccinated, would it be reasonable to expose all these teenagers in such stiflingly close quarters?

I cannot imagine how that's acceptable to any thinking person. 

The fact is, having 25-30% of students in school buildings, masked, socially distanced, and unable to freely interact is not precisely progress. It's hardly something worth battling for. It may appear otherwise, of course, if you rely on the NY Times for education information. 

Those of us who've worked for the NYC Department of Education have heard many, many iterations of doubletalk, and we see this "opening" for what it is. It's a sham. If we want to go back to in person education, we need to vaccinate everyone of every age. These half-assed solutions may be good enough for NY Times reporters, but they ought not to be good enough for teachers, students, or parents.

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