NYC School Reopening: Facing the Challenge Ahead

August 25, 2020

Having been separated from the normality of our world for the past five months has made it hard for us to imagine what life looks like outside the confines of our own four walls. Even simple outings, such as traveling on buses and trains, do not allow for us to be socially distant, causing worry and fear of a second wave coming soon. Schools reopening are no exception — sending kids back into their classrooms sparks even more concern among parents.

In recent weeks, college students have returned to campus under strict guidelines. Students are required to fill out COVID-19 safety forms and participate in COVID-19 screenings to ensure that they are safe to live on campus grounds. However, what college campuses did not expect, was for students to quickly return home after only a few days of reopening. With COVID-19 cases arising in states like California, Colorado, Louisiana, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, one would think that campuses would take a hint and enforce virtual learning.

While some colleges have taken the precautions very seriously and are only offering virtual learning as an option for students, other campuses have brought students back with no problem at all. Although there are many options for virtual classrooms, not all classes can be placed online. In fact, on some reopened campuses, students are walking into classrooms, only to find virtual professors.

So, what does this mean for our younger students attending New York schools? According to reports from NBC, “Mayor de Blasio and Carranza have repeatedly said they would not allow students to physically return to the classroom if it were not safe — and they won’t hesitate to re-close school buildings if it becomes unsafe at some point.” However, there is a plan to allow students to return to partial in-person learning by September 10th. Outdoor learning was an option placed on the table as something that could possibly work, but due to unpredictable weather changes, there was immediate concern for the students and the impact on their learning.

This brings into question: What is the plan for schools with a larger number of students? At the beginning of August, North Paulding High School in Georgia hit the news after Hannah Watters posted a photo on social media about her school not following the guidelines that were put in place to protect students. The young student was initially suspended for sharing the photo, and thereby violating three of the school’s conduct policies. The underlying issue portrayed is that students were crowded together in proximity with some students not wearing masks. Although Hannah’s suspension was later lifted, the school closed in a matter of days due to several students and three staff members testing positive for COVID-19. It is feared that a number of students will continue to do what they want, and not wear their masks throughout the day, no matter the guidelines or possible repercussions.

Keeping this in mind, New York is beginning to allow gyms to reopen by September 2nd, after necessary inspections and with strict capacity limitations as well as safety precautions in place. All customers must always remain socially distanced and keep their masks on. However, indoor classes and pools will not be allowed to open. If gym classrooms will not be permitted to open, is it safe to allow our students to enter their classrooms?

The problem that we are facing is failing to understand that schools are opening for two main reasons. One reason is to provide schools with funds for the development of school and campus buildings, and the second is to give parents space from their children. It’s sad to say, but according to news reports from the National Review, “lots of New York parents can’t go back to work, in many cases even if their jobs have now moved online, because small children are too disruptive and demanding around the house.”

Until a vaccine for the virus has been found and works well, bringing students safely back into their classrooms will be a difficult situation to navigate. Above all, our children are our future, and we need to ensure that they stay safe and healthy. Let us continue to stay hopeful, and careful, as the reopening of our schools continues.

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