In what many parents will see as a small miracle, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that he would reopen the city’s public elementary schools, starting December 7. Middle and high schools would remain closed for now, but at least the kids who need to be in classrooms the most will be returning soon. The mayor also announced the city would no longer use the 3-percent-test-positivity threshold for closures; that threshold was the lowest in the country.
(I’ll choose to believe this editorial persuaded him.)
If New York City can figure out a way to keep the classrooms open during what we hope are the closing months of this pandemic, every other public-school district in the country should be able to figure it out, too. Yes, school boards and administrators found themselves thrown into a complicated and difficult situation. Some teachers and other school personnel are indeed in higher-risk categories, and reopening will require precautionary measures. But the verdict on “distance learning” is in and it fails too many of the most-vulnerable students. A lot of kids and teens learn better when they are physically interacting with a teacher among their peers, instead of interacting through a screen. And despite what you may hear from certain teachers’ unions, a lot of teachers really want to get back into the classroom and to see their students again.
Our founder was fond of the phrase “mutatis mutandis,” meaning, “making necessary alterations while not affecting the main point at issue.” Different schools may need to make different adjustments for the remainder of the school year. Students may attend on alternating days to ensure the building is at half-capacity. In middle and high schools, instead of groups of students walking through the halls from class to class while the teachers stay in place, perhaps the teachers will have to move from class to class. Gymnasiums and classrooms may be temporarily converted to classrooms to keep space between students. School hours may differ for daily cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. If there’s a really bad outbreak in a particular community, it may make sense to go back to online learning until the outbreak dies down.
But if even Bill de Blasio can figure out how important it is to get kids back in classrooms . . . what excuse does any school administrator anywhere else have?