Jackson Heights parents and educators march to demand schools reopen safely

Photo by Dean Moses

More than 50 parents and teachers marched in Jackson Heights to demand a safe school reopening on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

The group gathered outside of Jackson Heights’ P.S. 222 at 86-15 37 Ave. at 3 p.m. and marched toward P.S. 280 at 34-20 94th St.

The demonstration is one of several that have taken place in Jackson Heights — one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic — in the last week amid plans to reopen public schools in an in-person and remote learning format on Sept. 21.

Throughout the march, organized by teachers union More UFT, they chanted “Not until it’s safe” and “Hey de Blasio, we are not fools, we will not let you ruin our schools!”

The protesters joined a chorus of educators and parents who have said Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Education’s (DOE) plan won’t allow for a safe return to in-person classes.

Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

As of Tuesday, the DOE announced 10 staff members at Queens schools have tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to school buildings to prep for the start of the school year.

I.S. 230 at 73-10 34th Ave. in Jackson Heights had a staff member test positive last week.

At the march, parents and teachers demanded more safety procedures, requirements for COVID-19 testing and tracing, appropriate ventilation and cleanliness.


That same morning, educators and parents gathered outside of P.S. 149 at 93-11 34th Ave. to also call for a better plan to keep teachers as well as the families they serve safe while returning to in-person schooling.

“We showed up to support our teachers at our former elementary school,” said Andrew Sokolof-Diaz, co-founder of 89th Street Tenants Unidos and parent. “It’s absolutely necessary for the well-being of students to return physically to school but only in safe, adequate conditions for the faculty and students. The City is rushing this plan and there are concerns around proper ventilation, classroom space and the roll-out of this blended model itself.”

Sokolof-Diaz has also called for 34th Avenue’s popular Open Streets to be used for outdoor learning and recreation when plans are better suited for a safe return.

The DOE has not yet provided a full list of Queens schools that were approved for outdoor learning.

Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

De Blasio first pushed back the start of in-person classes from Sept. 10 to Sept. 21, and announced on Sept. 17 that the start date will again be delayed.

The city will roll out a phased-in approach for students who opted to return to hybrid in-person classes.

Only students in Pre-K, 3-K and district 75 schools (which serves the city’s disabled students), will return to buildings on Sept. 21. Students in K-5 and K-8 grade schools will now return to buildings on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Middle, high school, secondary, transfer and adult education students will go back to their physical classrooms on Oct. 1.

Educators and parents say they were not aware of the change until de Blasio’s daily news briefing Thursday morning.

In an email obtained by QNS, UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote to teachers after Thursday morning’s press conference that the mayor finally agreed the city “needs more time to address the staffing and safety issues exposed by UFT chapter leaders and members across the city.”

“We made a promise to each other and to public school parents that we would do everything in our power to keep our school communities safe and fight for what’s best for our students, and we are honoring that promise today,” Mulgrew wrote. “Thanks to your advocacy, we now will have a responsible, phased-in reopening for schools.”

More UFT addressed the change in a Facebook post, stating it’s “too little, too late.”

“The mayor has once again let down the city,” the post read. “Parents are left to scramble to find childcare. Teachers have to change plans yet again. Students have to process the delay and handle the stress of a moving target. This is not okay.”

This story first appeared on our sister publication qns.com.