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Op-ed | Why does New York City refuse to protect its teachers?

P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill. (Photo by Susan De Vries)

BY ANTHONY SCIARRATTA

Public-school teachers in New York City are underpaid, undervalued, and overworked. In a city that hails itself as a progressive safe haven, New York City has consistently neglected to properly handle the massive problem that is its education system. 

The coronavirus pandemic is only highlighting the already massive underlying issue that we have all known for too long: Why does New York City not value its teachers? 

COVID-19 does not discriminate, it’s affecting people of all races, genders, and ethnicities, yet, we are valuing the lives of some more than others. How can elected officials in New York City force teachers to come into work, where they will be prone to infection by COVID-19? There is already blood on the hands of those who didn’t act quickly enough, with over 50 Department of Education (DOE) employees who died from COVID-19. 

Remember when Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza closed schools around the time the pandemic first hit? 

This didn’t apply to teachers, who were forced to come into work for three more days. The lives of those 50 plus DOE employees could have potentially been spared, and New York City is on track to making that same mistake again.  

The pandemic is far from over and a rush to reopening is sweeping across the United States. New York has made strides in flattening the curve, but why should our leaders ruin it here? 

My mother is a 55-year-old teacher who is only a few years away from her retirement. She has been employed by the DOE for around 30 years now. Being around her and her coworkers my entire life taught me everything I know about the DOE and teacher’s rights.

I often tell my mom when I see her working past midnight that she should have been a lawyer. She’d be doing the same amount of work, with similar stress, for a lot more money. Her dedication to her craft and children is tear-jerking because I know she truly loves her job and the students whose lives she’s touched.

For teachers who can be so selfless, why should we devalue their lives and the lives of their family members? 

This is not a matter of education any longer, it’s become a matter of life or death. Public schools are not babysitting services and that overwhelming amount of parents that want their children back in school don’t understand the risk they are posing to everyone’s life. It’s easy to forget that teachers come in contact with hundreds of people a day including co-coworkers, parents/guardians, and children of all grades.

Putting kids at school in any capacity is just as stupid as allowing a movie theater to screen films at any capacity. Children would be in an enclosed space where there will be hundreds of people a day. No matter the number of children allowed into school, there will never be enough social distancing for children who haven’t fully grasped the severity of the pandemic yet. 

One key issue that the NYC officials are forgetting is that they have to tell children to social distance, not play with each other, cough, sneeze, wear a mask, and to not put their hands in their mouth. Most parents have trouble taking care of one child on their own, hence the whopping 75% of parents who want their kids back in school. How can elected officials tell a teacher to handle nine of them per classroom while writing two different lesson plans for those both in school and online? 

Keep in mind that this is on top of wearing a mask the entire day, maintaining social distancing, traveling, and being underpaid. 

No one is safe until there is a vaccine, that’s the bottom line. Keep teachers and children out of schools. “Social and emotional” connections that our leaders are claiming matter can’t exist if you’re on a ventilator, or worse, dead.

Sciarratta is a published author with Post Hill Press.

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