As schools close, NYC educators will rise to the challenge

It is with a heavy heart that we hear the news that New York City schools will close until at least April 20th. We understand the profound effect this will have on our students and their families, and are committed to continue to serve our students and community in every way we can.  However, with today’s press conference, Mayor de Blasio has finally done the right thing and announced a plan to close New York City schools effective tomorrow, March 16th, after an escalating campaign of pressure by concerned citizens.

This crisis has exposed the savage inequalities of our society, and the disproportionate burden that is placed on our school system as providers of not only education but basic social services: food, healthcare, mental health counseling, social work, and community.  Schools hold our country’s tattered social safety net together, and they are vulnerable in a crisis. This crisis has revealed the need for a bold and comprehensive reinvestment in our education system, with increased funding, more staffing, smaller class sizes, updated infrastructure and robust health services for all students.  We have created a society that values the economy over education and public health, and we are now paying the consequences.

This crisis has revealed the need for a bold and comprehensive reinvestment in our education system.

The teachers and school employees of New York City have demonstrated incredible courage and leadership in the past week by raising the alarm about the increasingly dangerous situation in our schools.  School workers took leadership on their own, and pushed their union to take the kind of strong stand necessary to win this fight. On Friday night President Mulgrew had said he and the mayor “respectfully agreed to disagree” on closure.  By Saturday he denounced the mayor’s irresponsibility and by Sunday he was threatening to sue the DOE over unsafe working conditions. However, it was the credible threat of strong collective action that forced the City of New York to close the schools and ensure the safety of their students, staff and their families. It was an act of courage on the part of frontline education workers, and it likely saved lives.  New York City teachers will remember the power they have long after this crisis ends.

We have heard many disturbing reports from across the city of mismanagement and cover-ups in schools in the past week.  There will be many questions about the mayor’s profound lack of leadership in the coming days: 

  • Why were schools where staff, students, or family members tested positive for COVID-19 expected to reopen within 24 hours? 
  • Why did the DOE fail to follow their own protocol by not closing schools despite positive tests?
  • Why were students and school workers being asked to go against the advice of the CDC, and even the mayor himself, to practice social distancing?  
  • Why did the mayor wait to follow the advice of leading public health experts, the UFT, the CSA, and the city council, all of whom have been recommending school closure for days?
  • Why was there a lack of leadership from the chancellor and the mayor on the move towards online learning the week prior to the shut down?

Much of the difficulty in closing the schools stemmed from Mayor de Blasio’s inability to resolve the legitimate concerns of health care workers for child care while they bravely confront a national public health emergency.  How is it possible that New York City did not have an emergency plan in place for such an occurrence? Why was the last week spent minimizing the seriousness of the crisis, telling New Yorkers to keep going to restaurants, when the mayor could have been resolving these issues?

It was the credible threat of strong collective action that forced the City of New York to close the schools and ensure the safety of their students, staff and their families.

We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in health care who are currently on the front lines of confronting this crisis, and we salute SEIU 1199 for negotiating a child care plan for them.  We will not have teachers and nurses pitted against each other for political purposes.

We are concerned about the long term effects of “distance learning,” and the threat of tech companies profiteering by replacing teachers with technology. The Coronavirus should not be made into an “investment opportunity” for corporations that want to further privatize our education system. Emergency learning measures cannot replace the socialization of a nurturing and caring school community. 

In the coming weeks, educators will need to rise to new and unprecedented challenges as the city scrambles to continue the education of our students. Teachers are called to service, and we will pursue our duties with dedication and professionalism. Our classrooms may be closed, but our schools will be open. Teachers will continue to support both their students academic and emotional needs. The Movement of Rank and File Educators will continue to mobilize and build alliances with the community to fight for the schools our students deserve, especially in this time of crisis.

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