Schools Reopening: Parents in New York City Are Stressed

Schools Reopening: Parents in New York City Are Stressed

After lying awake most of the night, Michelle Goldberg, a Times Opinion columnist, gave up on sleep and started writing about the anxiety and despair of being a New York City parent with school-age children.

“When I lie in bed struggling to figure out how to balance physical risk, economic sustainability and emotional well-being, I can’t make the equation work,” she wrote. “And if I can’t do it, I’m not sure how parents with far fewer resources are doing it either.”

New York City — by far the biggest school system in the United States — has the virus sufficiently under control to at least partly reopen schools this year, according to public health experts. After a horrible spring, when the city became the world’s coronavirus epicenter, its statistics now compare favorably to places like Germany or Scandinavia.

And yet:

“There has been no effort to come up with creative solutions. Nobody is treating this like an emergency,” Michelle told us. “They came up with field hospitals, so why not field schools?”

After months of pleas from parents, Mayor Bill de Blasio solicited proposals for outdoor learning on Monday — but he gave schools only a brief window to figure out their plans. Eliza Shapiro, our colleague who covers the New York City schools, said she has heard skepticism about outdoor learning from principals in low-income neighborhoods.

An official for the union representing school administrators said the city had “haphazardly” announced the outdoor school plan, which if not properly funded would “exacerbate already existing disparities.”

Indeed, at elite private schools in New York and beyond, which often cost over $50,000 a year, administrators have been working on outdoor plans for months.

Riverdale, in the Bronx, and the Shipley school, in a Philadelphia suburb, erected tents so that students can attend in-person classes. “This is incredibly expensive,” Shipley’s head of school told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“There are only two ways out of pandemic-driven insecurity: great personal wealth or a functioning government,” Michelle wrote in her column. “Right now, many of us who’d thought we were insulated from American precarity are finding out just how frightening the world can be when you don’t have either.”

Read more:

As promised last week, we’ve got an update on reopened schools in Germany. The contrast with the United States is stark.

“Several weeks into returning to school, educators and even virologists who were skeptical about reopening say that early results look hopeful,” Katrin Bennhold, The Times’s Berlin bureau chief, reported. “Despite individual infections popping up in dozens of schools, there have been no serious outbreaks — and no lasting closures.”

When students test positive for the coronavirus, rapid, widespread and reliable testing means their classmates can return to school quickly once they’re cleared.

Crucially, Germany has effective contact tracing and relatively low rates of viral infection: More than 1,300 new cases daily, up from about 300 in early July, but far below the peak of more than 5,500 in April. (The United States has averaged more than 42,000 confirmed cases a day over the past week.)

Despite the success so far, the constant vigilance is taking a toll. “It’s been a total roller coaster,” said one headmaster, who had to test dozens of students after two contracted the virus.

In other international news:

As students, professors and staff members return to campus in the middle of a pandemic, coronavirus cases are turning up by the thousands.

A New York Times survey of more than 1,500 American colleges and universities has revealed at least 26,000 cases and 64 deaths since the pandemic began.

Thousands of cases are from the new fall semester. Seven universities, all of them large public schools in the South, have announced more than 500 cases, and more than 30 institutions nationwide have had at least 200 known cases.

Search for a school here.

  • EdSource took a deep dive into how universities in California are approaching the coming semester.

  • The Reading Eagle made an interactive list of how all the schools in Berks County, Pa., are opening.

  • An entire football team in Fairbanks, Alaska, is in quarantine after a player tested positive.

  • A high school in North Carolina transitioned to online learning because so many of its staff members were in quarantine.

It’s always good to make sure your children are vaccinated against the flu. This year, it’s even more important, public health officials say.

To prevent against a “twindemic” in the fall, have your entire family get vaccinated. No one likes shots, but it might actually help your child feel as though he or she is helping protect your family in tough times.

Last week, we asked educators to tell us about the difficult decisions they are facing at the start of the school year. We received over 150 thoughtful, candid responses.

  • Music teachers are trying to keep entire choirs safe and taking extra precautions with their wind sections.

  • Gym teachers don’t know how they’ll keep their masked students moving.

  • And college counselors are helping families figure out how to pay tuition during the economic downturn.

Here’s how three teachers across the country are considering the semester ahead.

Barbara Sarbin was fully ready to return to teach in-person, prioritizing outside learning, before her school went remote. “I feel like a Ping-Pong ball,” said Ms. Sarbin, who teaches in New York and Hawaii. “We all know that distance learning doesn’t work, and we all were ready to take the risk of in-person learning.”

Thressa Johnson is returning to her preschool classroom in Minneapolis to teach. “I am super excited, because so much of who I am exists in my interactions with students,” said Ms. Johnson, who feels as though she’s at lower risk of transmitting the virus because she already had it.

Kelly Daigle Pielow is 63 and has pre-existing conditions, but would not have health insurance if she were to quit.“I feel trapped by a system that holds my very life-blood in its hands,” said Ms. Pielow, who teaches in Newark, N.Y.

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