Thursday, August 12, 2021

Questions for the DOE Experts

I've no doubt the mayor and chancellor are working very hard to ensure a productive return to school for New York's 1.1 million students. That said, there are just a few issues I find confusing. I know that their watchwords are equity and excellence, and I have no doubt that's exactly what they're offering both our students and employees. They should, therefore, have easy answers to all of these questions.

We know PPE has proven vital in protecting the safety of both students and employees. There's really no substitute for it, and it was one of the factors that allowed schools to open even in the limited fashion they did last year. Masks are a big part of this. Last year, in fact, any student who wouldn't wear a mask was placed into remote instruction. Now that there is, at least so far, no remote instruction, what consequence will there be for students who decline masks? 

Ever since I've been teaching, there have been a lot of people who worried about students wearing hats in school. It's not a large concern of mine, but since I can get in trouble for allowing hats in my classroom, I ask kids to remove them during class. They do. However, in the halls they don't. That's because it's understood there is no consequence for wearing them. Deans ask kids to remove them, they do, and as soon as they turn a corner, they put them back on. If masks are treated the same way, there will be a whole lot of students who simply don't wear them. 

How would it be equitable to require students to wear masks, but allow those who don't feel like it not to do so? How would it be excellent to fail to protect students from infecting one another?

Another factor we used to control the spread of COVID was social distancing. Last year it was six feet. This year it's three feet. However, the DOE has let us know that some schools simply can't accommodate that. The number of schools involved seems to change every day, depending upon whom you ask and when you ask them.  However, I'm absolutely certain the school in  which I work can't handle even three feet, with full attendance. During passing, for certain, there will be no social distancing whatsoever, and we will be lucky not to be carried among waves of moving humans.

This represents a broken promise from the DOE, which assured us it would do something to help overcrowded schools, like provide us with extra space to prevent us from infecting one another. I happen to know they sat in negotiations with the UFT, and I happen to know that, for my school, at least, they did nothing whatsoever. However, the DOE assures us that most schools will achieve social distancing.

How is it equitable that the safety of some demands social distancing, but the safety of others does not? And how does your abject failure to help schools like ours represent excellence? If I were to fail my students like that, wouldn't I face consequences? Why are there none for you?

I applaud your decision to require either vaccination or regular testing of city employees. The truth is, I'd prefer mandatory vaccination for all but those whose health precludes vaccination. Still, your decision is as fair a compromise as there is, if there needs to be one. Why, then do you not have the same requirement for students 12-17? Are they not human? Are they not as capable as spreading disease as we are? Why on earth should we differentiate between the health of one group and that of another? Don't we value it equally among those who work, or study?

How is it equitable to mandate this for us and not for eligible students?

Here's my toughest question, though. I understand that who is eligible for vaccination is beyond your control. But what about students 11 and under, surely the majority of our students. In fact, given that we are not even sure you can provide masking or social distancing for them, how are they protected at all? Are you even capable of providing the testing we had last year for over a million students? Shouldn't parents of students who cannot be vaccinated have a remote option for their kids?

Yesterday I spoke with a parent who did not like the remote option. She told me that she really did not like her young children sitting in front of a computer all day. I understood that parent's argument, and you won't hear me arguing that remote instruction is as good as live instruction. As far as I'm concerned, there's no comparison whatsoever. 

However, as a parent, I value the health of my child far more than whether or not she masters fractions, reads The Catcher in the Rye, or knows the difference between enzymes and hormones. Maybe New York parents should have the choice of not placing their unvaccinated children into schools where it's doubtful you can maintain needed protections. With children getting sick and even dying from COVID, that's certainly an important concern. No child should die just so we can open schools.

How is it equitable that some students return to schools where their peers are vaccinated, while others simply do not?

I shall sit while I wait for answers to these questions. In my experience, the DOE is very good at making demands of those of us who do the actual work. As for looking at themselves critically, the most I generally see that is never. Nonetheless, I'd be more than happy for them to prove me wrong.

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