This open letter has been signed by MORE, AQE, CEJ, CEC4, CEC5, CEC6, CEC 14, Rank & File Action/PSC, OFENY, NYCOptOut, P.S. 364M Earth School, P.S. 194K Raoul Wallenberg, IntegrateNYC, and Teens Take Charge. Are you an organization that would like to sign on to this call? Please fill out the endorsement form here.
[Versión en español aquí]
Dear Chancellor Carranza, Mayor De Blasio and NYSED Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe,
We are in the midst of collective trauma that will forever change us, our students and their families.
In a global crisis like this, in which our literal survival is at stake, we should be focusing on our students and families mental and physical health. But instead, we have been forced to ignore what we know about pedagogy and child development and impose a new system of learning on students that will widen inequality, discourage meaningful learning and fail to offer the social-emotional support our students desperately need at this time. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the spring break we all—students, staff and families—desperately needed, has been canceled.
We write to you as NYCDOE staff, parents and students who have urgent concerns for the welfare of our city’s children, families and educators. We write to implore you to slow down and adopt a more compassionate, trauma-informed approach toward education at this time for the sake of our collective health and survival.
The rapid transition to remote learning and the rigorous academic expectations educators have been instructed to impose on families have caused tremendous stress and anxiety in an already stressful time. Our transition to remote learning has also exacerbated inequity in our school system; we teach over 100,000 homeless students, and 750,000 students who lacked basic resources before this crisis began. Now, our diverse students are facing even more diverse circumstances, yet without the needed differentiation from our school system. While a few students have the resources and support at home to fully participate in remote learning, others do not. We have students who are caring for younger siblings while their parents work, students without reliable internet, students whose caregivers lost their jobs due to COVID-19, students with sick or dying family members, students who move between family member’s homes or childcare centers at different times of the day and night, students who have still not received technology students living in crowded homeless shelters, students without basic school supplies, students’ whose home language is not English, making it difficult for their parents to help them with remote learning and students who lack the quiet space at home that is conducive to work.
This diversity of home experience holds true for our pedagogical staff too. Many teachers are juggling long hours of remote teaching with caring for their own young children or elderly relatives. Staff members’ spouses and siblings may be losing their jobs. Occupational therapists and speech therapists required to do video conferencing may not have reliable internet in their own homes. Elderly parents are sick or homebound. Many teachers have already lost a colleague to COVID-19.
Despite this, school based staff have literally been working around the clock to meet new mandates and their students’ academic needs. Students, too, worried about the implications on their grades and their futures, have reported working far beyond typical school hours. And parents of young children have shared that the volume and tenor of work they are facing is far more than they can handle.
We propose the following amendments to the city’s emergency remote-learning plan in order to protect children, parents and educators in a way that is first and foremost compassionate, sustainable and equitable.
- Slow Down Academics: We need to slow down our academic expectations and work expectations. Schools should be directed to provide less academic work system wide. At most, schools should be providing 3 hours of instruction for high school students, 2 for elementary and middle school students, and 1 hour for Pre-k and Kindergarten. Beyond that time frame, all additional material posted should be optional, engaging and supportive. Teachers and school staff must be given flexibility to work at their own pace and not adhere to an all day schedule of live instruction. Caseload expectations for related service providers must also be relaxed and remote learning participation should not be factored in decisions to retain students.
- Trauma informed teaching: Instead of focusing on traditional academics, schools should uniformly be directed to focus a majority of time and energy to providing social-emotional and logistical support to students and families. This could include one-on-one calls with teachers, giving kids and teachers more flexibility during their day, video-chat playdates with other students, setting up mutual aid networks within school communities to support families in need of groceries, legal support or healthcare, making more time for art, music, creative writing and student driven projects. This also must include directly engaging students in learning about the historic moment we find ourselves in, how we got here, and how we build a more just society going forward. Schools should also invest now in support for grieving students, families and teachers.
- Lower the Stakes: Given the wide range of home circumstances our students face, it is completely inequitable to grade academic work at this time. The DOE should announce now that grading will be suspended for June report cards. Likewise, teacher evaluations should be suspended for the 2019-2020 school year. In no world is it feasible or appropriate to evaluate our teaching under these unprecedented circumstances and it is a waste of DOE resources to attempt to do so. We must follow the recommendations of world education leaders and prioritize meeting our students, staff and families basic physical and emotional needs.
- We Need A Break: The Governor’s decision to cancel spring break was a slap in the face for the school based staff and students who have been working incredibly hard over the last few weeks. The lack of trust this decision shows in our students and their families is offensive; the assumption that without a full day of academic work students will flee their homes and run wild around the city is rooted in racism, and has been disproven every single weekend. The Mayor’s further decision to cancel our days off for Good Friday and Passover is offensive to our Jewish and Christian families and staff. But more important than all of that, is the fact that we know that breaks are essential to meaningful learning and mental health. We’re hanging on by a thread, and we all needed a moment to catch our breath, plan ahead, catch up on work, spend time with our families and care for ourselves. If school staff is at a breaking point, that will inevitably trickle down to adversely impact students and families too. We call on the city and state to either restore spring break as previously scheduled or at the least, reschedule a similar length break for May.
- Ramp Up Public Health Initiatives: The considerable resources of the Department of Education should be immediately leveraged to survey and address the health needs of our communities. Teachers are in direct touch with our students and we ask to be better armed to help them get what they need. Schools need emergency funding for inter-agency collaboration between educators and health workers in order to flood our communities with medicines, cleaning supplies, groceries and other life-sustaining services. Our communities need mass distribution of asthma-related medication and the creation of asthma treatment centers in our over-polluted neighborhoods. And DOE data on students with disabilities, ELLs, meal pickups and student health needs should be made available to PTAs, CECs and CBOs seeking to offer support to those families. Finally, we need funding for emergency grief support and therapy for our students and staff who lose family members, teachers and colleagues to Coronavirus.
When they look back on this time, New York City’s students will not remember what they learned in math, chemistry or history. What they will remember, is whether their schools were there for them and their families. They will remember the staff members who reached out to see if they were okay. They will remember how their schools reacted when a staff member or family member died. They will remember the teacher who let them free-write or draw to help them process this terrifying time.They will remember the community members who dropped off meals, medicine or school supplies at their doorsteps. They will remember the staff members who advocated for their families and empowered them to see themselves as problem solvers in the midst of a crisis.
Help us be there for our students and for each other. We need to slow down academic expectations, apply trauma informed principles for social emotional learning, lower the stakes by canceling all grades, evaluations and assessments, ramp up public health initiatives and reschedule spring break.
Alliance for Quality Education
Teens Take Charge
Coalition for Educational Justice
Community Education Council 4
Community Education Council 5
Community Education Council 6
Community Education Council 14
Rank & File Action/PSC
Organizing for Equity NY
P.S. 364M Earth School
P.S. 194K Raoul Wallenberg
Ana Maria Ramirez
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”– Arundhati Roy