Elementary schools are now open throughout New York City.
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) welcomed students and parents back to school on Monday morning after almost three weeks of closures at Sol Lain Playground, just outside of P.S. 134, the Henrietta Szold School.
“We are once again opening up some of our schools here in New York City. This country’s largest school system, and more importantly the only large school system in the country that actually has live in-person instruction. This is a very difficult time that we are all going through, and I’m happy that the city has agreed to do even more aggressive testing,” said Michael Mulgrew, the UFT President.
The elation to return back to some normalcy was apparent on the families’ faces as they handed their children bookbags and secured their masks on what felt like the first day of school all over again.
In order to attend in-person lessons, parents had to sign extensive forms before any child was allowed back on the premises. Following one last kiss and a hug, the little ones were off to the classroom once more, but everyone cannot bask in this moment. There is still no plan set out by the mayor’s office for when middle school and high school students can return to in-person learning, and the UFT sees that as an impossibility at this moment because the city lacks resources to properly screen each education facility.
“We have to monitor the city to see 20% of every school on a weekly basis now. The city has now said that they have the capacity to do that. So, we are going to monitor that this week and we want to see what happens over the next couple of weeks and really try to make a determination in about January,” Mulgrew said.
He explained that middle schools and high schools will not open unless the city has the ability to guarantee they can monitor 20% of every school building throughout the metropolitan area on a weekly basis.
“They would have to prove to us that they have the capacity to [test 20% of] all schools on a weekly basis,” he added.
At PS 134, like many other elementary schools, the response team will consistently monitor and instill safety protocols, such as everyone wearing PPE, social distancing, continuous cleaning, and ventilation.
“Everything is being checked and now, undoubtedly, the most aggressive mandated testing system in the entire country is now happening inside of our schools. So, I want to thank all of the teachers, the guidance counselors, the paraprofessionals, the secretaries, the therapists, all of those folks who are serving our students in this city so well. They are our heroes today,” Mulgrew said.
According to PS 134 Chapter Leader Esther Savitzky, by being able to test students weekly, the school can follow asymptomatic cases more closely, which in turn help with tracing, keeping everyone involved safe. Testing is not an option for teachers, and if they refuse to do so they will be suspended without pay; however, Mulgrew stated that this has not been an issue as of yet.
“Every school learns, just as we have all learned, more and more about this virus and we continue to make changes and keep things safe,” he said.
As education leaders, parents, and students get a grasp on the multiple modes of virtual learning, many find that nothing can replace the value of in-person education.
“I just wanted to say that I am happy the kids are back, we missed them dearly. There is no school without children,” said Miriam Petrovich, PS 134 Parent Coordinator and a member of the building’s response team.