School community members from across the city rallied at the Tweed Courthouse Saturday demanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Education fully reopen all public schools for all students.
The rally occurred nearly a year to the day when de Blasio, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grow across New York City, closed public schools and shifted all instruction to online learning. The public schools reopened in September under a “blended model” of in-person classes and remote instruction, though the year has seen school buildings closed for extensive periods due to the spread of COVID-19.
However, the COVID-19 infection rate has been low in public schools throughout the year — and parents, coaches, teachers and students at Saturday’s rally said the time had come to get all children, regardless of grade, back in the classrooms.
Maud Maron, a City Council candidate and public school parent who organized the rally, said that the prolonged school closure was not based on science and that schools provided a safe environment for students since teachers now are vaccinated. She stressed that virtual learning is no replacement for in-person education and emphasized the importance of social interaction, extracurricular activities and sports.
“Children need to be taught by teachers in the classroom. Laptops will never be able to replace teachers. Our kids need to play sports; they need to practice with their teammates and talk to their coaches. The social component of schools is crucial to children. One year is too long for any child to go without school. We need NYC schools open, and we can do it safely,” Maron said.
Chris Savino and her 10-year-old son Joseph, a fourth-grader, feel that it is time to reopen the schools since teachers are getting vaccinated, and kids are wearing masks.
“The teacher is at home even though they’re vaccinated. So what’s the point of that? You know, so you have all of these restrictions. And it’s not helping anyone, and in the meantime by September, you’re going to have 90% of us vaccinated. But we’re still talking about doing the same system that isn’t even based in science anyway,” Savino said.
As far as Joseph is concerned, what he misses most about school is “I think it’s mostly playing with all my friends and seeing all my friends.”
NYC public student-parent Stephanie Kokinos told the crowd that her children had 29 days of in-person instruction since September because the school had to shut down due numerous times because of the two-case rule.
“This is the two-case rule that exists in New York City public schools. A system that is designed and set-up for failure. This madness, it’s damaging. Our officials use the phrase ‘gold standard.’ Shame on them!” Kokinos declared and continued, “Our schools are not open. Mental health is suffering. Learning loss is incalculable. Our most vulnerable kids, they are suffering the most.”
Head Coach Ron Naclerio, who has won over 850 games with the Benjamin Cardozo High School basketball team in Bayside, Queens, stressed the importance of returning to student sports since it shapes a student’s future and he fears that many are going to go down the wrong path.
“There has been so much devastation to our youth because of this pandemic. Too many have lost the spark. Kids need an incentive. For a majority, sports is the incentive. No incentive, they are dropping out,” he said.
The rallygoers called for the reduction of social-distancing guidelines from 8 to 3 feet and abolish the two-case rule, which has lead to frequent shutdowns of school buildings.