The NYC School Closings: Pie Served with a Side of Whip-lash

On Wednesday, November 18, around 2:30 PM EST, I received a push notification from Twitter alerting me that the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) would be closing school buildings until further notice. The 7-day city-wide coronavirus positive test rate was now hitting and surpassing the 3% mark and Mayor Bill de Blasio, all of a sudden moved to “keep his word,” decided to close schools. About 60 seconds later, I received an email from Chancellor Richard Carranza, my boss’s boss’s boss and thus, my boss, about the decision.

Chancellor Carranza, with Mayor de Blasio. Photo Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

On Sunday, November 29, it happened again. A series of push notifications from news organizations and social media, a delayed email from the Chancellor, and another major announcement central to the lives of 1.1 million students, their caregivers, and NYCDOE employees like me: Despite climbing positivity rates, elementary schools would reopen on December 7, accompanied with a decrease in hybrid learning, and a series of other adjustments to the logistics of schooling.

In conversations I have with principals, teachers, colleagues, and caregivers, the word I keep hearing is “whiplash.” How can school leaders lead their school communities if the plans keep changing? How can teachers plan and support their students, and their own school-aged children, if the schedule is constantly a moving target? How can caregivers arrange childcare, balance their work schedules, and be a partner in schooling if the basics - when, where, and how - keep changing?

Just because constant flip-flopping on policy and procedure based on the political machinations of our city’s leaders is a trademark of the times does not make it less disturbing. In the time I’ve worked for the NYCDOE, I’ve seen the black box of decision-making grow, and accountability and transparency diminish. The lack of desire on the part of local leaders to make explicit the implicit inner workings of decision-making, even to those of us that help run the system responsible for delivering public services, indicates a deep lack of care for the act of governing. Concealing how decisions are made breeds distrust for the system. Announcing life-changing decisions that seem determined at whim erodes trust and goodwill for the institutions charged with creating communities of care, thereby eroding the will of individuals to care. It shows a lack of trust in the public, and thus, signals that the public cannot trust its leaders and the public sector.

As a society, we cannot have our pie all ways. We cannot demand that the public nurture and fight for the preservation of a public education system while treating them like secondary considerations to the political and career aspirations of leaders seeking a kind word from national media. The operative word in “public education” is public. The term demands a level of democracy, transparency, and accountability that allows students, their caregivers, voters, taxpayers, and all individuals who consider themselves part of the community in which our schools are located to convene in the public square and debate the choices of policymakers with full information.

Politics and policy are messy, yes. Costs and benefits are weighed, and compromises forged. In the pursuit of equity, we cannot be expected to consider the needs of every citizen equally. Our leaders have asked us to show them grace in this process. However, to receive the gift of grace, they must grace us with vulnerability that extends beyond 280 characters and a hyperlink, released on a press schedule that relegates the public to just passively consuming policies that actively impact their lives.

Resources for Caregivers and Students

The NYCDOE is offering students and caregivers resources to support with this traumatic and stressful time. Here are just a few. Remember it’s the giving season, so share these far and wide to ensure that everyone in our communities has the support they need to nourish their minds, bodies, and souls.

  • Does your child need a device to engage in remote or blended learning? Request an iPad.

  • Struggling to put food on the table? Know someone who is? Even when schools are closed, free meals are still available at NYC School Meal Hubs. Find sites and hours for the Community Meals program.

  • Do you require childcare for your children in 3-K through 8th grade during the school closures and all remote learning days? Check out Learning Bridges and see if you qualify to enroll.

  • Are you the caregiver of an NYCDOE student and want to help schools better track, trace, and monitor COVID? Sign up your student for School-Based Testing Consent.

  • Struggling with mental health? Connect to trained professionals through NYC Well. Students, caregivers, and all residents of NYC can get help coping with the trauma of this very stressful time.

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