By Aima Ali
In late March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and chancellor of education Richard Carranza announced that schools would close. Now, with 232,000 reported cases and more than 23,000 deaths in the city, the mayor is planning on reopening schools in the fall. Reopening schools with the proposed hybrid learning model will only result in more unnecessary death.
Though cases are decreasing in the city, allowing some businesses to reopen, people still die from the virus every day. Before schools closed, more than 60 Department of Education employees—including 25 teachers—contracted COVID-19 and eventually died. Opening schools will inevitably lead to more cases and will raise the risk of students being exposed to the virus. School students and staff often have to commute using trains or buses. Though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city’s transit agency, has been cleaning trains nightly, those who use public transportation during rush hour know how crowded trains can be. Some MTA employees have even refused to come to work after their colleagues contracted and died from the virus. As a result, already unpredictable buses run on even more unreliable schedules and remain packed at all hours of the day.
The Department of Education released guidelines limiting the number of students per classroom, but keeping up with these requirements will be more difficult for schools with larger classroom sizes. Those are often schools serving low-income students. Low-income, Black, and Latino individuals are already more likely to both contract COVID-19 and die from the disease. Larger classroom sizes and fewer teachers will only increase these inequalities.
Those pushing for reopening claim that it will not affect death rates, as students are less likely to die from the virus. However, older students are still susceptible to becoming extremely sick and may suffer from other symptoms, such as loss of taste and smell. Students can be symptom-free carriers, infecting high-risk family members without even knowing. Older teachers will also go to work fearing for their safety each day. Teachers’ unions are predicting that teachers who can retire will, causing an even greater shortage of teachers and making it more difficult for class sizes to remain small.
Poor planning caused New York City to hesitate before closing schools when a COVID-19 case was first detected in Manhattan. Still, with months to plan, the best the mayor and his fellow politicians have been able to come up with is a plan that will ultimately result in the deaths of more New Yorkers. We cannot bring back those 63 DOE employees that were exposed early on, but we can make sure that no other teacher, school staff member, or student dies a preventable death.