New York City is one of the few large school districts left in the country that has yet to cancel classes due to the coronavirus outbreak and the teachers that run the classroom say they’re “furious,” according to Facebook posts and statements from the teachers themselves.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio started rebuffing any effort to close schools last week saying, “we are going to do our damnedest to keep the schools open.”
By the end of last week, the second and third largest education systems, Los Angeles and Chicago, had announced the suspension of classes. Several large states such as Florida and Ohio have announced the cancellations of classes, too. On Sunday, it was announced that Nassau and Suffolk county schools will be closed for two weeks.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday explained some of the reasons why it's not so easy to close schools in the city.
"For many families, school is childcare. There are school districts in wealthier states where one parent can stay home or hire caregiver, but then there’s everyone else," Cuomo said. "It’s not simple. How do you feed the children? The breakfast and lunch are the main meal they get. How do you distribute food to children not in school? if you can address those concerns, then yes, close the schools."
Emily James, a teacher at a Brooklyn high school, says the schools are a bad environment for coronavirus, teachers and kids can’t get the testing they need and she fears the students who need meals and other services will be shunned by the broader community.
James, no stranger to lobbying City Hall for change having pushed for and getting paid parental leave for new parents, took to Facebook to describe what she’s seeing in the school.
She says the crowded nature of the schools and lack of testing to find out who has a simple cough and who might have coronavirus is troubling, “basically all the precautions that the city has laid out for people to take, teachers and students are unable to take those precautions and that’s being ignored.”
The crowding from the halls to gyms packed with hundreds of kids is particularly concerning given the city’s recommendation to practice social distancing. She says, “it’s like a gridlock jam, you can’t get through”, adding, “there’s just no space in New York City schools.”
The mayor says he believes health care workers and first responders will need to stay home to take care of their kids instead of doing their vital work in the face of a pandemic.
"I know there are millions of parents that rely on our public schools," de Blasio said Sunday morning. "The kids, not only do they need an education, they need a place with meals. They need adult supervision."
"I want to caution how imperfect that situation would be," de Blasio said. City Hall did not respond to NBC News' request for comment.
James says she understands, “if you’re a health care worker and you’re needed at this time and in this crisis and you need your children to be cared for the government should do something to help with that.”
She says teachers that clean their own classrooms with their own supplies to supplement the school’s custodians’ work – who are themselves overwhelmed with their daily cleaning duties – are now running out of supplies because of shortages of cleaning materials that are being seen nationwide.
She says, “we do a lot of that work that nobody sees.” James described the mood, “teachers are furious.”
She says, “Teachers feel so completely disrespected by our government I’ve never really seen them unite in such disbelief, in such anger, in such frustration.”
Over 1,000 people had shared James’ Facebook post on Saturday night. Some teachers said they were running out of hand sanitizers and soap, some described sick kids who couldn’t get tested or teachers who couldn’t get tested despite fevers and coughs.
A group of teachers within the union, United Federation of Teachers, who call themselves UFT Solidarity, had a message for de Blasio.
“Mr. Mayor, as a former NYC public school parent, surely you must understand the angst and frustration we are experiencing.”
Adding, “we, too, are public school parents and civil servants who have dedicated their lives to children.”The Mayor has fought so strenuously to keep the schools open in part because they provide meals and other services to kids in need. James points to other select city schools that have been closed following confirmed cases of Coronaviruses and for those schools the kids are provided meals by going to a designated pickup point.
On Sunday, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said parents should call and demand schools be closed starting on Monday.
James says her students look up to her and her colleagues to know what's right, “a lot of them look up to us as second parents, it’s putting us in a really bad predicament, it’s telling them this is safe.”