Home > Uncategorized > I Don’t Like the “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” Line of Thought… But deBlasio’s Coulda Navigated the Closure Decision FAR Better Than He Did

I Don’t Like the “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” Line of Thought… But deBlasio’s Coulda Navigated the Closure Decision FAR Better Than He Did

November 30, 2020

Eliza Shapiro’s NYTimes article on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s latest decision that appeared on November 30 made me want to scream in frustration. I generally support the Mayor’s instincts when it comes to public schools, particularly his desire to move toward community centered schooling and the abandonment of the SHSAT as the sole determinant for enrolling in “competitive” high schools. But I sense that his dithering on school openings has undercut his credibility on managing the school system as a whole… and it didn’t have to be this way. Indeed, had he framed his decision on opening where he has needed up he might have come out of the whole episode stronger than ever. After fits and starts: conditional openings; hybrid offerings in some schools; the requirement that parents make irreversible decisions about remote learning on short notice; and, most recently, complete closures and mandatory remote learning, the mayor has a plan:

The mayor said the city would abandon a 3 percent test positivity threshold that it had adopted for closing the school system, the largest in the country, with 1.1 million children. And he said the system would aim to give many parents the option of sending their children to school five days a week, which would effectively end the so-called hybrid learning system for some city schools.

Students can return only if they have already signed up for in-person learning, meaning just about 190,000 children in the grades and schools the city is reopening next week would be eligible. About 335,000 students in total have chosen in-person classes.

Children in pre-K and elementary school can return starting Dec. 7. Mr. de Blasio also announced that students with the most complex disabilities can return on Dec. 10.

Whatever happens ahead, we want this to be the plan going forward,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “We know what we didn’t know over the summer, we know what works from actual experience.”

Here’s the problem I have with the Mayor’s last statement: one thing we DID know in the summer was that we DIDN’T know nearly enough to make a firm decision on any form of re-opening AND we DID know that despite that reality several districts in our country planned to or had reopened anyway. Given that knowledge, the Mayor COULD have and SHOULD have framed the school opening decision in the fashion many pundits (including yours truly) proposed: institute across the board remote learning pending the gathering of information on the experience of school districts across the country and the recommendations of epidemiologists. At the same time, the Mayor COULD have and SHOULD have identified schools that required upgrades to HVAC systems and used CARES funding to accomplish that costly undertaking. These projects are best done when schools are closed, and with a closure in place he COULD have and SHOULD have proceeded with them.

One other area where the Mayor fell down: at the conclusion of the 2019-20 school year, he COULD have and SHOULD have conducted a comprehensive review of the implementation of remote learning, identifying steps that needed to be taken to ensure that IF remote learning was needed in 2020-21 he would have a plan in place to make it more effective, efficient, and equitable. Oh, and we DID know in summer that epidemiologists were forecasting a resurgence of COVID once the cold weather returned.

I underscored, italicized and bold-faced “epidemiologists” because one thing we’ve learned from this experience is that they are the experts in dealing with pandemics. Had the politicians from the top down heeded their advice we might have avoided the marked increase in COVID that we are now encountering.

In conclusion, Mayor de Blasio COULD have and SHOULD have announced in August that all schools in NYC would be closed until a phased re-opening plan is developed in consultation with epidemiologists and medical experts who will help us determine the readiness of our facilities to safely educate our children. If he WOULD have done that, his announcement that elementary schools are opening next week WOULD be welcomed and hailed as measured, reasonable, and appreciated.

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