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Coronavirus (1): School Closures

My friend Irfan Khawaja posted this to his Facebook Timeline, in response to this New York Times story on the New York City public schools---and the political authorities' failure to close them in the face of rising Coronavirus numbers. He asked:

Does anyone have a coherent explanation as to why the New York City public schools are still open? I’ve read this article over twice, and find the arguments offered by Cuomo and DeBlasio unconvincing. To be honest, they sound like dumb and dumber. No one in this area should be attending school at this point. If at all possible, parents should simply defy these “authorities” and keep their kids home.

I replied on his thread, but am replying here as well:

There is no explanation except that the schools are as much day care facilities as they are food providers. But what has been happening is that the moment a case is identified, that school is closed down. Several charter school networks have completely closed, as have the the elementary schools of the Catholic Archdiocese, many private schools, the CUNY and SUNY schools, and many universities as well. Except for a few public high schools (like New Dorp High School on Staten Island, where a case was identified), the public schools remain open. Here is a list of ongoing school closures.

What is unbelievable to me is that the schools shut down for two months over the summer---and kids seem to be provided for. Surely they can find a way to shut down these schools NOW before the virus takes hold across the entire school system and thousands of kids and teachers are infected. But that would be the *sane* thing to do.

There is an issue at hand with regard to "seat time"---that is, the number of hours that students are supposed to spend time in courses in order to graduate, and not all schools have remote capabilities. But what's graduation if your health---and potentially your life---is in danger?

Parents are taking things into their own hands. The attendance rates are dropping precipitously as parents keep their kids home. Yep: It's going to take defiance of authority to achieve a de facto closure of schools even if they insist on keeping these buildings open.

I did post some additional thoughts, which grew out of the dialogue on my Facebook thread:

There have been proposals to use the schools as distribution centers for food and such, since many kids are getting two meals at school that their parents could not afford to give them at home. Any and all alternatives should be considered to empty and sanitize these buildings. There is also the possibility that DeBlasio and company may be waiting for Spring Break, when the schools close between April 9th and April 20th. But that's a long way to go, and NYC has already had its first Coronavirus-related death of an 82-year old woman. The problem is that many kids may be in otherwise good health but still be carriers of the virus, bringing it home to elderly relatives who are at much greater risk of getting the virus and not surviving it. Even the Teacher's Union is calling for a shutdown because they argue that the teachers are at greater risk given that they are older and can more easily contract the virus.

The really serious problem is not even the schools. They tell us to keep "social distance" of six feet. Yeah. Good luck with that on the streets of New York City. But think about the subways, which carry 8 million people a day to all ends of the five boroughs; surely, they can't shut them down---but there ain't no social distance in those subway cars.

The whole thing is a mess.

I believe that the 'powers that be' must know this is a really serious threat. I can't imagine the biggest money-making sports and entertainment franchises---the NBA, the NHL, March Madness, MLB Spring Training and the first month of baseball (so far), and even Disneyland and Disney World all closing down---without the belief that a genuine public health pandemic is supremely possible.

I also responded to one comment with regard to the "greed" of public school administrators who are, of course, more interested in the funds they might lose should they authorize a closure of the public schools. I stated:

Some public school administrators exemplify the kind of greed that is base and destructive.

However, I can tell you that my own sister rose through the ranks of the public school system in New York City, from an English teacher to an Assistant Principal, to a Principal, to a Deputy Superintendent in charge of Brooklyn and Staten Island High Schools, to Superintendent under Joel Klein. She was the founder of the Office of Student Enrollment, which was responsible for implementing a vastly improved system of school choice for high school admissions and, partially, for the proliferation of alternative educational opportunities in the charter schools. For my sister, who retired in 2010, the kids always came first. I always told her: "You may not have had kids of your own, but between your teaching and your looking out for their interests while being an educational administrator, you've raised a few thousand kids---and they are all the better for it."

The only thing she didn't get out of being a public school administrator was a vast sum of wealth. But she does have vast experience in this area---and though I speak for myself here, and everywhere, I'm thankful that I can benefit from the sanity of her knowledge of the NYC public school system and draw my own conclusions.

Postscript (15 March 2020): This just in: Mayor DeBlasio has decided to close schools this week, and will still make "Grab and Go" meals available to students. The schools might re-open (at the earliest) by April 20th, but they could potentially be closed for the rest of the year. The city is expanding online learning opportunities. There are 329 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the city of New York, and over 700 in the state of New York. This is a developing story.