As principals and teachers grapple with unclear school reopening guidance, their buildings will now be subject to surprise safety inspections to ensure that “everything is in place” for the start of classes on Sept. 10, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday.
The unannounced spot checks will begin this month and be conducted by officials from the Department of Education, including the top official, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. Department reps will continue to monitor schools throughout the remainder of the school year, the mayor added.
The check-ins are meant to provide a sense of ease to worried parents sending their children back to school during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. But some principals say that unless the DOE gives clearer guidance to teachers and school administrators on health and safety requirements and equip schools with adequate cleaning resources before next month, check-ins could be more of a hindrance than a help.
“If I don’t even know what am I supposed to do what is it that I’m being held accountable for?” said Principal of Fort Greene Prep Academy Paula Lettiere. Last week, Lettiere along with dozens of other Brooklyn principals released their own version of a school reopening plan which calls for a phased-in approach.
The plan also calls on the DOE to equip schools with replacement staff for nurses, teachers or guidance counselors working remotely, release detailed reports on when and what kinds of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies schools will receive, detailed information on every school’s ventilation system, a plan for using outdoor space for classes and sufficient planning times for building leaders.
“We are opening these buildings for children so either they are ready or they are not.”
During de Blasio’s Monday press conference, the mayor announced that the city would distribute sufficient cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to schools before the school year begins on Sept. 10. According to Carranza, shipments of 4 million face masks, 3.5 million bottles of hand sanitizer and 80,000 canisters of disinfectant wipes have already begun and will be replenished throughout the school year.
In a brief video that de Blasio played, the city indicated that over 7,350 maintenance staff will disinfect school buildings after classes end each day and clean “high-touch” zones multiple times a day, 3,750 electrostatic sprayers will also work to disinfect buildings and 210,000 signs and floor markers will be placed in schools to remind students to keep socially distant from one another.
“The message of that video is that whatever our schools need they are going to have,” said de Blasio. “This is about being ready, it’s about moving past fear to resiliency.”
The city is also creating a new hotline schedule to be up and running this week for principals to use to request additional personal protective equipment or cleaning supplies.