It’s August and my email box is filled with messages from the three different independent Manhattan schools that my kids attend. I am being invited to numerous grade-wide and division-wide Zoom meetings. Committees have been formed, plans have been written, protocols have been set. There will be pods, masks, social distancing, classrooms half-filled, a hybrid of virtual and in-person learning. There will be copious amounts of hand sanitizer and teachers in plastic gloves.
Manhattan schools are ready to welcome back children. Or so Governor Andrew Cuomo told us this week. But do we really know what the school year will actually look like? Manhattan schools, whether public or private, are scrambling to figure it out, and each has cooked up extremely complicated back-to-school scenarios followed by other even more complicated back-to-school scenarios if the first scenarios don’t stick.
I know how important returning to the classroom is to the 1.1 million children in the New York school system, in ways that go far beyond the instruction that takes place there. I live in a city where school is a desperately needed meal delivery system to our 114,000 homeless children and which also provides crucial assistance for nearly 1 million working parents who have no other access to affordable childcare.
School is not just school. Some kids don’t access to computers and WIFI. Not having school can widen the gap between children. This is why I think it makes sense to extend this year’s school year so that we could pick up some summer months for in school education. We are going to lose some time in the fall, we could pick it up in the summer.
Because, frankly, the fall seems like a disaster waiting to happen. My apartment building won’t allow more than four in an elevator. Does it make any sense that we would be more lax when it comes to hallways and classrooms? How much potential danger are we putting those 1.1 million children in?
As much as I desperately want to get my children out of my apartment and back into the world, I know it’s probably not going to happen. Ultimately, the problem isn’t one the schools can fix; it’s one the government must and won’t. The coronavirus fundamentals in my country are so weak that it doesn’t matter what the schools do, going back into the classroom is going to put both the students and the adults who teach them at risk.