Liat Olenick, Brooklyn Arbor Chapter Leader and Elementary School Teacher
The last few weeks have been an overwhelming whirlwind for New York’s teachers. We have worked long days preparing for remote learning and supporting families, with some teachers reporting that remote learning is non-stop from 8 am to 10 pm. We’ve called our students to check in and counseled our colleagues caring for young children or elderly relatives. We’ve ignored our own children’s needs for the sake of our students. We’ve spent hours each day making videos and lessons, even though we know that they won’t be accessible to all students, and even though as educators we know that stress and isolation are not conducive to meaningful learning.
We’ve done all this with little support from our school districts or from New York State.
Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to dramatically cut school funding and cancel spring break.
Yes, you read that right. Although Cuomo has the mechanisms to raise revenue by taxing the wealthy, he has chosen to push for cuts to our public schools at the very moment that our students need resources the most. If he succeeds, when our students return to school they will face staffing shortages and larger classes, instead of the support they need to recover from the collective trauma they are all experiencing.
Imagine this student: Her parents lost their jobs and are struggling to put food on the table, she has limited tech ability at home, an elderly relative is sick, and she is caring for younger siblings while trying to participate in remote learning throughout this pandemic. This is the reality for many of our students, especially our black and brown students.
Imagine her when schools reopen. She goes back to school to find out that her favorite teacher was laid off, afterschool clubs are cancelled, that the school no longer has a full time counselor to provide her with therapy and she is now in a class of 32. She is behind academically because she couldn’t keep up with remote learning and now all the resources she depended on for extra support are gone.
This story is what cuts to education funding will mean, not just for one student, but for hundreds of thousands of students.
Now imagine what cuts to school funding could mean for teachers, especially untenured teachers who are new to the DOE. These new employees were kept in school buildings too long, put at risk of infection. Their spouses are losing their jobs. Now they are working extremely hard to support their students’ families at the expense of their own. Cuomo cutting school funding means these colleagues could lose their jobs in the middle of a global pandemic and recession. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about right now, recently hired staff will now also have to worry about being excessed and losing their health insurance while working tirelessly to support students during a pandemic.
Which brings us to spring break. Per the UFT, Cuomo is considering cancelling spring break for students and educators. This is outrageous, unnecessary and a prime example of how employers will use the Covid-19 pandemic to take advantage of employees.
Teachers, parents and students need a break now more than ever for the sake of our families and our mental health. We need a break from too much screentime, from a month of unending work and worry, from having to ignore our own needs and families. Not to mention that if spring break is indeed cancelled, many educators would be forced to work through religious holidays, and students who celebrate would likewise miss days of “school.”
Governor Cuomo, don’t kick teachers when we’re down. Tax New York’s billionaires and millionaires, fund our schools and give us our spring break.