By Monet Elzey and Lude Bonnet
It’s been 179 days since New York City schools closed due to the pandemic. Some of those days have felt like weeks, while others have passed with the blink of an eye. But as parents, one thing has remained constant: our devotion to the health and well-being of our children.
The shift to remote learning in March was an incredible feat by teachers, students, and families. Countless hours have been poured into keeping our children on track over the past six months, and the resiliency of our communities has been a beautiful thing to witness. We made it through some of the toughest days in our City’s history, during the height of a crisis no one could have ever prepared for.
Today, we’ve made it through the worst of that crisis—and we’re uniquely positioned as the only major school district in the country able to safely send our children back to school in the fall. Our children, their education, and their futures can’t afford to wait.
As parents and educators, we know there is no substitute for the experience of being in a classroom. Our children have so much to gain from being in-person with their teachers, peers, and friends during this critical time. One of us has a son whose eyes light up when he talks about going back to his high school to start his junior year. He can’t wait to be back with his friends and a step closer towards graduation. The memories of when he first began his educational journey are still clear as day. It breaks my heart to think about a world in which he spends his last moments as a New York City student in our apartment every day, away from his friends, and separated from the teachers who want him to succeed.
Being in school is an experience that can’t be replaced. And that’s why we are so hopeful we can make blended learning work. It’s a chance to get our children back to their classrooms, where they learn best with one another.
As of now, the majority of students will begin the school year in a blended learning model, where they will be learning in-person in their own school buildings part of the week and learning remotely during the remaining days. Our schools play such a critical role in our communities, and hundreds of thousands of New York City parents are ready to safely get their kids back to their classrooms.
Are we nervous? Of course, we’re parents. We lie awake at night thinking about our kids, especially our youngest children. How can we help them understand that they can’t hug their friends? Will they remember to wear their masks all the time? None of it will be easy. Our young ones are dealing with the change, confusion, and even trauma the pandemic has brought into their lives. The social and emotional support of educators, friends, parents, and loved ones is needed more than ever for all developing young minds. We are so grateful for the wrap-around care that is already being planned out in our school communities.
Planning for the school year is never easy, but this fall has required far more preparation than ever. We’ve seen first-hand the work our teachers, principals, and even our Mayor and Chancellor have put in to keep our schools and classrooms safe. A later start to school is allowing educators and families more time to thoroughly prepare for the start of a school year like no other, and mandatory testing will help keep our communities safe and healthy.
We refuse to put our children in harm’s way. One of us has a daughter who was diagnosed with Lupus and making sure she’s healthy has caused many sleepless nights. So, safety is absolutely non-negotiable. Knowing that day-in and day-out, there are teams disinfecting the hallways, spacing out classrooms, ensuring adequate ventilation, and taking every precaution necessary for our children provides a little bit of peace during this turbulent time. Health and safety are leading the way as schools prepare a safe and supportive learning environment for our children, and we know school leaders are doing everything they can to start the school year strong.
As parents, we’re reassured. But above all, we’re hopeful. We believe we can make this work, and that we can give our kids the kind of learning experience they can only get in a classroom. During this unprecedented moment, we want nothing but the best for our children – and we know every New York City parent wants the same for their child. That’s what we owe our young people. Let’s do all we can to make that a successful reality this year.
Monet Elzey and Lude Bonnet are parents of New York City school children