IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Parents outraged after NYC schools close due to rise in coronavirus infections

Michael Melcher, a single father, said halting in-person learning was a "terrible, unscientific decision."
Parents and children gather in front of New York's City Hall to protest the closing of public schools on Nov. 19, 2020.Mark Lennihan / AP

Many New York City parents are outraged that all in-person instruction was abruptly halted at city schools, with many expressing their frustrations over the decision and having no time to prepare for it.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the shutdown during a late Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Leah Truell, a 34-year-old single mother in Staten Island, said she learned of the news after she left work. Her son, Preston, is part of the blended learning system — a mix of remote and in-person classes — and was supposed to go back to school at P.S. 45 John Tyler on Monday.

Truell, who works with Silver Lake Head Start, now has to quickly make arrangements for her son to switch to fully remote learning. She said she's hoping a friend will be able to step in and help.

"That’s not enough time. They don’t take into consideration single parents, those of us who don’t have any other option, no family, or anything like that," she said during a phone interview Thursday. "It’s a very stressful situation.”

Classrooms in the country's largest school system will be closed the remainder of this week and then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week going into Thanksgiving and the following Friday — which were already scheduled to be school holidays.

As of now, there is no date set for when schools may reopen.

Michael Melcher, 57, from Manhattan, said he thinks it may be a while before the city resumes in-person learning and during that time it will be the children who suffer. The single father has twin 5-year-old sons at P.S. 9 Sarah Anderson School.

"For a 5-year-old there’s very little meaning to remote education," he said. "I don't think they're going to learn how to read, how to write when it comes to online learning so I feel like I have to do that separately on my own."

Melcher, an executive coach, said closing schools was a "terrible, unscientific decision" and voiced his frustrations Thursday morning at a protest outside City Hall with other parents.

"That happy Kindergarten experience, they’re not going to have that," he said.

During Wednesday's announcement, de Blasio cited the region's rise in coronavirus infections as to why schools were closing.

Data from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that city residents have tested positive for the virus at a rate of 3 percent over the past seven days, surpassing a standard set for school shutdowns.

Melcher and another parent, Angela G. of Queens, both criticized the use of that metric.

"In March, we didn't know anything. We had to take emergency measures, we had to close everything down," Melcher said. "Now we have data that shows that schools are safe. There are other ways that we should be addressing the second wave by not closing schools while keeping gyms and bars open.”

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said Wednesday that the positivity rate of the school population is 0.19 percent, much lower than that of the city as a whole.

Angela, who asked not to be identified by her last name because of possible online harassment, said in a phone interview that she thinks by closing schools "we’re punishing the children."

"The schools are not the source," she said referring to the spread of the virus. "And I feel like they’ve been through enough."

"Not just their education, that’s just really one piece of it. It’s their social and emotional safety and well-being, that consistency and structure that school provides to them and the relationships that they make in school," she added.

Angela has a 5-year-old son at P.S. 128 Audubon and a 4-year-old son at Forest Hills West School, which is not closing because it's an early education center and child care has been deemed essential. Her 4-year-old only attends the school for in-person learning a few days a week.

She said that she and her husband now have to adjust their work schedules so they can be available for their children.

“Disappointed would be an understatement. I’m feeling really at this point outraged," she said of the decision to close schools.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said that the plan for the past several months has always been to close schools if that 3 percent mark was reached.

“We know this isn’t easy, and New Yorkers now need to come together to do everything we can to beat back a second wave and bring kids back into buildings as quickly as possible," the spokesperson, Danielle Filson, said.

Filson said there are several things in place to help parents, including free lunches for their children and each student receiving a device they can use for learning. The Department of Education has ordered 100,000 iPads for those who still need them, she said.

"Nothing can replace in-person learning, but rigorous instruction will not be compromised. The curriculum will continue uninterrupted and students will be expected to be present during scheduled live instruction and to be fully engaged and participating in scheduled coursework," the spokesperson said.

The United Federation of Teachers, which represents most public school educators, did not respond to a request for comment, but said in a statement that it backed the decision to halt in-person learning.

"The city established the 3 percent infection rate threshold to make sure that schools did not become centers to spread the coronavirus. Since the 3 percent rate has been reached, education will continue but all students will be learning remotely," the union's president, Michael Mulgrew, said.

"Now it’s the job of all New Yorkers to maintain social distance, wear masks and take all other steps to substantially lower the infection rate so school buildings can reopen for in-person instruction."