Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza led a tour through Public School 59 in Brooklyn of staff and union members to assure them that the facilities will be clean and as safe as can be made during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
The mayor and the unions have been fearing that bringing children together with teachers will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases, though the city is currently under a 3 percent infection rate.
Accompanied by members of several unions that work at city schools, the mayor pointed to the freshly waxed floors with pride, saying the schools will be ready for students on the extended date of September 21. The date was extended after negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers who threatened to strike if their safety protocols were not met. Instead, both sides agreed to the later school opening to allow for all safety standards to be met and staff to better prepare for the return of children to in-person classes and on-line learning.
Remote learning is set to begin on September 16. Schools were previously scheduled to begin with a blended approach on September 10.
De Blasio complimented the unions for doing “an extraordinary job getting things ready.” He expressed confidence that staff and facilities will be prepared.
“We made a major announcement yesterday which was a symbol of the common vision that we have with our labor community, with the schools and the people of this city and that is to bring our schools back that will be safe and healthy for all our kids,” de Blasio said.
He pointed to school principal Dr. Cherry-Ann Joseph Hislop for doing careful planning to return students, including applying for and receiving certification to conduct outdoor classes in the fall semester, the 301st school to receive such permission.
Hislop said she expects 40 percent of the students to return to classes full-time, with 60 percent doing remote learning using Zoom and other online methods. She also expressed pride that her school will be able to conduct classes outdoors in a “safe environment.” Outdoor classes are considered safer in open air, officials maintain.
“There are extraordinary educational opportunities – if you look at the specialized educational opportunities in this one school, like the stem programs, dance, all the pieces that are meant to inspire kids, energize them, and make them committed to their education – this cannot be achieved outside the school building,” de Blasio said. “I am certain this school did a remarkable job with remote learning when kids are at home, but you cannot achieve as much as when you are inside this school building.”
De Blasio said they walked around the building and viewed results of electrostatic cleaning, PPE put in place, hand sanitizers in available areas, and the school will practice proper social distancing. He said classrooms were outfitted for nine children, as opposed to having normally 24.
“The social distancing is there – all the ways of protecting the children – layer upon layer of safety measures, the highest standard in the world in New York City,” the mayor said, adding that hundreds of applications were received for outdoor learning,
Chancellor Carranza said, “We see the level of cleanliness, but also the focus on the academic program, and as we heard Dr. Hislop talk about how they work and in March, how they continued to work, teachers, administrators, counselors, support staff, making sure the students that come to PS 59 don’t have to think about their zip code – that they experience education that is happening within their zip code and that is what education is all about – it does take a village.”
“Schools are a community, for parents, teachers and students its almost like a second home, and families depend on their schools,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio also called on President of Local 891, Robert J. Troeller who represents superintendents and tenders in each school. Troeller was cautiously optimistic about the future after his members spent their time cleaning each building and making them safe for staff and students.
Troeller emphasized that his members continued working throughout the pandemic and have worked tirelessly to keep the buildings clean. However, he feared that budget cuts threaten the jobs of his members.
“The city has come to far and done too well and we want to keep it going, but we have to have the resources – so the federal government has to move and work on the stimulus and find money for schools in particular – if the federal government doesn’t move then the state has to move in and borrow the funds necessary to preserve jobs,” he said.
The mayor assured that all schools will be ready, though some of the schools he admitted, “had a different set of challenges,” but because of the longer opening date, he believed would be ready for students and staff.
“Can we make the adjustments we need under these conditions,” he queried. “If we can, great, if we can’t, we will have to come up with an alternative.”