Saturday, May 22, 2021

What Do Large Schools Need to Reopen?

UFT President Michael Mulgrew has a column in the NY Daily News laying out a program for reopening. Mulgrew correctly points to the safeguards we insisted on as a reason schools were relatively safe this year. He asks that schools reach out to parents and enact a remote option for those who still aren't comfortable. These are all good ideas, and I think they apply to most city schools.

My school, however, is a little different. We routinely operate at somewhere around 240% capacity and the city doesn't give a hoot how uncomfortable or unhealthy that is. One of the first things I did as chapter leader was to get our school in the media, and we've been covered in not only all three major newspapers, but also on TV. We even had Bloomberg and Klein make cheery, misleading statements about us, because what were they gonna do? Fix the problem?

Surprisingly, though, their DOE did take a shot at it. UFT arranged a meeting at Tweed in which our then principal gave up a group of selected students, and for that they agreed to give us smaller incoming cohorts. They also agreed to more carefully screen incoming students, so that they couldn't simply say they lived where they did not. I personally had students who officially lived in Fresh Meadows who could never make it in on time, because their actual journey from the Bronx took them so long. 

Uncharacteristically, the Bloomberg people kept their word. Somehow when de Blasio came in, every aspect of our deal was left swirling the bowl. The selected students came back, and so did the veritable swarms of incoming freshmen, no longer facing scrutiny as to where they actually lived. So much for the neighborhood school concept. 

I don't want to begrudge students the opportunity to come to our school. Hey, if you're dedicated enough to spend hours on the trains to come here, we're probably lucky to have you. This notwithstanding, you can only fit so many people in a building before things become dangerous. Honestly, how can you offer the same quality under severe overcrowding? We've been very lucky in not simply falling apart at the seams, but no one can maintain that indefinitely. 

There is now an annex behind our building, It was set to open this year, but due to COVID, will now be delayed for another year. When it opens, it will provide some relief, but honestly not that much. This is because almost half of it will replace the miserable crumbling trailers we've been forced to use for the last few decades. 

Now, though, it isn't just the overcrowding we need to think about. It's health. Sure, there is a vaccine. Sure, we all have access to it. We could just say, hey, if you didn't bother to get the vaccine, too bad for you. Your problem. 

Alas, it's not that simple. Scientists have known for years that a pandemic could occur. The Obama administration actually prepped for it. If one could happen, couldn't another?

The fact is we will likely not have social distancing next year. That may mean one thing in most city schools. In ours, though, it will be a disaster in wait. Personally, I'm amazed I didn't acquire and bring home COVID before I knew better. Now all of my colleagues were so lucky. 

I've spoken to colleagues who lost their parents. Can you imagine having to wonder, for the rest of your life, whether or not you brought home the virus that caused you to lose family members? Now I know it wasn't their fault, and I can tell them that. But that doesn't change the minds of people racked with guilt. 

There certainly is fault, though. It's Bill de Blasio's fault. It's Richard Carranza's fault. 

And if Bill de Blasio doesn't do anything about the rampant overcrowding in my school and others, any disaster happening in the future will be his everlasting legacy.

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