‘How Are We Supposed to Manage?’

A dearth of teachers, another first-day delay and technical problems frustrate parents and students

21 Sep 2020 | 03:00

On Thursday, just days before New York City public school students were scheduled to return to classrooms after six months away, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would be delaying in-person instruction — for the second time — for the majority of students until the end of September.

The next morning, during the mayor’s radio appearance on WNYC, one Brooklyn mother named Ellen, who has one child with special needs and one without, asked de Blasio the questions running through the minds of parents across the five boroughs: “Why has the mayor waited this long to make this decision?” she asked. “How are we supposed to manage?”

In his response, de Blasio did not answer her questions specifically.

It is in fact not clear why the mayor waited until the final hour to give his decree, but it is known that teacher and principal unions had been making their concerns clear for weeks. According to union leaders, some older school buildings were not ready to open Monday because of poor ventilation or other safety concerns. But the biggest holdup is the massive shortfall of educators needed for instruction. Last Thursday, the city’s Independent Budget Office reported that the city needs about 12,000 more instructors for the school year.

The hybrid-learning model in part created the staffing problem for schools. Most students had signed up to receive a combination of in-person and remote learning, which involves students spending from one to three days per week in their classrooms and receiving instruction from home the rest of the week. About 40 percent of students opted for remote learning entirely. Teachers, however, are not required to teach both in-person and remote courses, meaning schools would essentially need double the educators, depending on the model of learning they’re using.

To add to the frustration of parents and students, the dearth of teachers means students who chose the hybrid-learning model might not receive live instruction on the days they are learning remotely. For many students, that could mean three to four days without any live instruction from teachers.

In addition to the timing of the mayor’s announcement, many have criticized de Blasio for his lacking any kind of bedside manner in his delivery of the news. When asked if he had a message to parents who might be sent scrambling and in need of childcare, he said that since most public school parents live in the outer boroughs and are mostly low-income, that they are mostly “pragmatic” people who “understand the realities of life.”

“I know that people will do what they have to do,” he said.

Scoffing at the Mayor’s Remarks

The characterization didn’t sit well with many parents, including The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum.

“Love DiBlasio’s (sic) gross attempt to define any public school parent who wanted to be able to plan childcare with more than one day’s notice as some entitled Manhattan yuppie. This guy has got to go,” Nussbaum wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Manhattan parent Megan Malvern scoffed at the mayor’s remarks.

“Parents are pragmatic. Yeah, we are; the problem is, we don’t have any real information,” she said. “How are they going to hire more teachers when he’s furloughing his own staff to save budgetary money?

Malvern, who is able to work from home, wondered how parents who need to leave the house for work could possibly manage this turn of events.

“I really consider ourselves very lucky,” she said. I can’t imagine how any family is working through this who has either a single parent or a couple that both parents need to go to work. I don’t know how they handle this.”

Even without the delay in in-person learning, Malvern wondered how parents working outside the home could manage the rotating schedules of when the kids do physically go to work.

Remote Leaning Issues

While most students started the school year Monday remotely, about 90,000 students are heading to school this week. Children between 3K, pre-K and students with special needs in District 75 returned to school Monday, and the mayor painted a rosy picture of their first day back.

“I talked to a number of parents and the word I heard the most was excited. There was an air of energy and spirit,” said de Blasio. “The first time our kids are going back into a school building in large numbers since the middle of March, and to see those children so engaged, so happy to be there, it was truly inspiring, truly inspiring.”

Meanwhile, though, parents on Twitter were reporting issues with their children beginning remote instruction, including having to deal with a myriad of technical problems.

“It’s the first official day of remote learning for @NYCSchools and only three out of 18 kids in my child’s kindergarten class are able to successfully log into Zoom. @NYCSchools never updated the log in process from last Spring. I hope this doesn’t portend the rest of the year,” Uché Blackstock, a physician and professor at NYU, tweeted Monday.

Another tale of frustration came from Jesse Drucker, a reporter at the New York Times, whose high school son missed his first two periods of the day because of issues with Zoom.

“1st day of NYC remote learning for my HS’er: 1st-period English, Zoom invite arrived 20 minutes late; then he couldn’t successfully log in, despite multiple password resets. Class is over. 2nd-period computer science started 20 min ago, still waiting on Zoom invite. Good times,” he wrote on Twitter.

With the confusion, frustration and skepticism parents are feeling in the wake of the city’s handling of schools re-opening, Malvern said it makes her worried about the health of the public school system.

“You know, I know families that have left the public school to go to private because private is open,” said Malvern. “How is that fair? So if you have enough money, your kid can go back to school? We’re gonna lose so many kids from the public school system, it’s already floundering.”

“Parents are pragmatic. Yeah, we are; the problem is, we don’t have any real information.” Manhattan parent Megan Malvern