Since New York City first went into lockdown in March, no single event has had a more direct positive impact on my family than the reopening of in-person schooling. My middle-school-aged son looks forward to going to school now, and I was finally able to get back to work, lending my family a much-needed economic lifeline. In-person schooling was the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Families like mine depend on the public schools, so as I watch the number of coronavirus cases tick up, I’m praying that Mayor de Blasio and his advisers will keep our schools open.
In the past several days, I’ve noticed more elected officials speaking out in favor of keeping schools open. They see what in-person school means for people in their neighborhoods. That’s heartening.
Another thing I’ve noticed, though, is that these same politicians pull their punches when it comes to calling out the one group that has been the central player in so much of the delays and chaos around the reopening: the teachers union.
At every step of the way, the United Federation of Teachers has put the narrow interests of a vocal subset of its members over the best interests of children. The UFT didn’t complain when its members were collecting guaranteed paychecks over the summer, but things changed when it was back to school time.
First, the union threatened to sue the city. Then it threatened to strike. It wasn’t until the UFT got a promise of no layoffs that teachers finally agreed to go back to work.
I wish my employer would give me a promise of no layoffs, but I live in the real world.
The union has gotten everything it has demanded, and now its leaders are holding to the ridiculous — and unscientific, per the World Health Organization — threshold they negotiated with Hizzoner to force the closing of schools once again.
That’s right, even though there have been only 308 positive tests out of 140,434 in the entire school system, a positivity rate of 0.22 percent, and no evidence that opening schools has caused a spread of the virus, New York City is poised to edge over 3 percent positivity citywide, which will automatically trigger the closing of public schools.
This is going to be devastating for my family.
School has never been easy for my son, but he struggled a lot when classrooms closed at the end of the last academic year. When the mayor announced in September that public schools would start offering in-person instruction, even though it wasn’t full-time, my son begged me to send him.
We live in the South Bronx, where COVID-19 hit hard in the spring and summer, so we knew the risks of sending him back to the classroom. Still, learning remotely has been much harder for my son, and he needs that personal touch only a teacher can provide in the classroom. Now he goes to class two to three times per week; his grades are improving.
I understand that teachers want to be safe. That’s what we all want. Thankfully, the city has proved that we can reopen schools safely. Believe me, this is my baby I’m talking about. I wouldn’t send my child to school if I thought it wasn’t safe.
We need schools to stay open, and I think all the people in the City Council and all these candidates running for mayor should come out and declare themselves on this issue. Are they willing to speak out for families like mine — even if it means taking on the one special-interest group most responsible for the situation? Are they willing to put the interest of our children ahead of their own political calculations?
I wish de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, had done a better job coordinating the reopening. But it didn’t help that they had to bring an intransigent labor union kicking and screaming along the way — a union unwilling to show even an ounce of genuine solidarity with parents and students.
I’ve had enough of all the adults and their political agendas. If we don’t call out who’s to blame, the situation will never change. If schools close this month, it will be because politicians once again caved to the UFT.
Katherine Holley is a Bronx resident and the mother of a middle-school student.