President Biden set a target of school re-openings within his first hundred days in office; however, the decision to open schools is local; the 14,000 school districts across the nation have the authority to open and close schools. The national teacher unions (NEA, AFT) do not have the authority either; the local unions within school districts “negotiate” school openings.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) produced a “Roadmap to Safely Open Schools” (Read here)
Randi Weingarten, the AFT President favors reopenings, with safeguards..
Education Next, a widely read website was prescient, Schools will remain closed for the rest of the 2019–20 academic year but will reopen in the 2020–21 academic year (albeit with the potential of localized, rolling closures for 14–28 days triggered by additional waves of infection,
The Los Angeles School District has been closed since the pandemic hit in March, COVID positive rates in Los Angeles remain high as well as hospitalizations and deaths. The teacher union (UTLA) has been adamant, has threatened a strike and only in the last few days agreed to a phased reopening plan.
The conservative media has pummeled teacher unions.
The New York City teacher union (UFT) threatened a “safety strike” in August, school opening was delayed until safety protocols were agreed upon, school opening in hybrid model, positivity rates increased, schools closed, and reopened with mandatory testing rules and the closing of individual schools based on positive tests.
On February 25th middle schools reopened, with mayoral fanfare, and many school returned to remote after a few days, positive tests. In spite of the shaky reopening Mayor deBlasio announced high schools would reopen in March 22nd. as well as non-contact sports.
Across the city many recently opened middle schools have gone back to remote due to testing protocols, for two days, four days, ten days, depending on the individual circumstances. The Department of Education has been silent.
Scheduling middle and high schools has been a nightmare. Thousands of teachers have accommodations due to medical conditions and are fully remote. Even though a school is open some teacher are remote, in some schools students sit in classrooms while the teacher is on the computer screen. For all-remote schools students have been on Google Classroom since March: how will schools handle moving to hybrid and full in person models?
Only 20% of high school students have chosen in-school instruction, school leaders have to schedule two parallel schools, a very small in-person school and a remote school four times as large, with some teachers with accommodations fully remote, yes, a challenge for school leaders.
A key for every classroom is routine and continuity. Teachers develop relationships with students, they know the academic shortcomings, they know how to prod, that little “nudge’ that encourages the student to dig deeper.
The discontinuity, the opening, closing and reopening of schools is disastrous for students.
With each series of openings and closing more parents choose to keep their children remote. Continuity is important for parents.
School reopenings are feathers in the caps of electeds; a sign of an effective mayor.
How will school openings at the end of March impact instruction?
In New York City the mayor had to satisfy the teacher union safety requirements: mandatory in school testing (if a parent does not sign a testing consent slip their child must remain remote), teachers are prioritized for vaccinations, positive tests require school closings.
How many of the 20% of high school students will return in-person? The mayor announced that half of high schools will return full time, the reason: so many kids are on remote the school won’t have social distancing issues. How about the high schools with thousands of kids? Is moving to hybrid more effective than fully remote? The complexities in schools with thousands of kids are mind-boggling.
Has anyone in the city addressed how the city is going to administer the grades 3-8 standardized tests? On Monday the Board of Regents will unveil plans. How about Regents Examinations? Federal law (Every Student Succeeds Act) requires a test in English, Math or Science; the vast majority of high schools seniors have probably taken one Regents Exam. BTW, for the ESSA requirement, do they have to pass the exam?
All with a new chancellor, with meager high level leadership experience. You noticed the announcements are made by the mayor, a mayor who more than hinted about his interest in running for governor in 2022.
Mayoral control curdles sensible educational policy.
The mayor also announced that he expects no remote classes in September. The mayor will be in the last months of his term, a Democratic candidate will already be selected who may have announced they intend to seek a new chancellor.
Is anybody planning for September?