As of this writing children in 3K through 5th grade are scheduled to return to class on December 7 and District 75 students of all ages will return to in-person learning on December 10. The exception being schools remain closed in zones designated orange or red by the state, and currently North Brooklyn has none of these designations. The remaining grades will continue with remote learning until further notice.
The notice that New York City’s public schools would close on November 19th was delivered just the day before. So it sent shock waves through households who needed to scramble for ways to adjust. This especially hindered those parents who work outside of the home and would need to find childcare or other workarounds. The news that schools would reopen for some students the week of December 7th was announced on November 29. One of the requirements for students and staff to return to school is that they submit a signed consent form for participation in random weekly testing by the day they return to school. Parents can fill out the consent form online using a New York City Schools Account (NYCSA) at mystudent.nyc or print and sign the form and bring it to school on their first day back to buildings.
From the beginning of the COVID safety protocols the NYC Department of Education has emphasized the benefit of a classroom environment, and this opportunity is still being safeguarded. “The unparalleled value of in-person learning for students has been evident in the first few months of school, and we will do everything we can to keep our schools safe and keep them open for the duration of this pandemic.” said Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza.
The school closing/reopening back-and-forth also affects some afterschool services. Debra Sue Lorenzen, Dir. of Youth and Education at St. Nicks Alliance, said, “Our youth enthusiastically anticipate in-person afterschool. Youth engaged in in-person afterschool are benefiting greatly from the human connectivity–with one another and the caring afterschool staff. The youth crave these social interactions and are using afterschool to process their “COVID reality”–from their feelings to the mask-wearing–with their peers and caring adults outside their home. The routines and structures help children feel safe within this new normal, and the homework help, literacy lessons, arts, physical activity and other activities are supporting their learning.”
Currently in question is whether the guidelines that initiate a school shutdown should be adjusted from the citywide 3% infection threshold. The data collected in schools show their infection rate is far below the citywide average. The most recent positivity rate in schools is 0.28%. Also Catholic Schools have remained open and continue to provide in-person instruction five days/week from the start of the school year (September 9th) as they are not subject to the City’s decision to close public schools. “Diocesan schools have successfully operated for more than two months due to the strict adherence to the important Core Four actions to prevent COVID-19 transmission, including maintaining physical distance, wearing a face covering, practicing healthy hand hygiene, and staying home if sick,” stated the Catholic Schools of Brooklyn and Queens website.
Tajh Sutton, Community Education Council District 14 President shared her perspective of the school closings and reopenings, “All District 14 families, educators and school communities would love nothing more than to be in school teaching, learning and growing together. We all miss in-person learning, hugs, communal meals and seeing one another in person. We understand the value of in-person learning and we are clear on the fact it cannot be replaced. We also value the lives, livelihoods and public health of our district 14 community. During the holiday season, we know COVID-19 spikes are likely due to families traveling and being in close quarters as they celebrate together despite these trying times. As a body, the Community Education Council has worked tirelessly to create a space for nuanced conversations that center each family’s experience and provide localized potential solutions powered by our community members. We are hoping that as schools reopen, a focus on equity will allow for our most vulnerable students to be prioritized for in person learning — such as our students with disabilities, our students in temporary housing, our English language learners, and the children of essential workers and low-income families who do not have the option of working remotely. Our wish is that as COVID-19 showcases the inequity of our city, the District 14 community can focus its efforts on ensuring that the schools we return to are more culturally responsive and trauma informed than the ones we left. We are thankful to our parent teacher associations, our educators and school staff, our families, our principals, the mutual aid and community based organizations who have taken such good care of us and the local elected leaders and district leadership team members who have supported our call for a phased, safe and equitable reopening Every step of the way.”
Not all early childhood education was closed during the last shutdown; programs in a community-based center not located in a public school remained open. Small World Early Childhood Center (211 Ainslie Street) managed by the Conselyea Street Block Association remained open. Staci White, Small World Early Childhood Director, said, “The children are thriving this school year. A school environment creates opportunities for children to become familiar with and master routines and skills that differ radically from a home environment. The children have more space and opportunity to interact with people of a similar age and skill set with responsive adults whose responsibility is to create a meaningful and intentional engaging learning environment. Where at home, children were often on their own while adults attempted to work remotely or address other important family matters, which left children on their own or in front of screens for longer than is appropriate.”
Learning Bridges, the City’s free childcare program for children in 3-K through 8th grade, continued to serve families enrolled in blended learning during the school closing. Yvette James, an educator, attested to the value of the Learning Bridges Program at School Settlement Association, “[It] saved my life in terms of offering a haven for my children who are enrolled in blended learning. As an educator that is teaching in the building and having two young children, without this program I will not be able to be to be an effective educator, because I have no place to house my children. The success and effectiveness of any program is determined by the people that are supervising it. They open the doors at 7:55 a.m. thereby allowing me enough time to get to my job. I have a peace of mind knowing that my children are supervised, all safety and COVID-19 protocols are followed. I wanted to say thank you to the wonderful supervisors and staff at School Settlement. You guys are awesome.”