An Open Letter to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
March 14, 2020
Dear Mr. Mayor –
Your decision not to close NYC public schools amid this unpredictable COVID-19 outbreak is not only unimaginably unwise it is unequivocally wrong. By keeping 1.1 million NYC school students stewing in virtual Petri dishes spreading germs to their fellow classmates, teachers, administrators and more importantly generations of their own families, you are putting the entire city at risk of infection—and something far beyond what our healthcare system can handle.
From my own experience, I know countless students live with elderly grandparents and family members with suppressed immune systems. They are already living with family members who suffer from asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and a myriad of other health issues, not to mention students’ own anxieties over these trying times within their lives. By forcing them to take public transportation you are putting all of their lives at risk.
How can they not be worried and stressed over your decision? Your office, as well as the Governor’s office is imploring major corporations and businesses to telecommute and practice “social distancing.” CUNY and SUNY school systems (as well as many private schools) are now barred and shuttered and countless college students are making their way back home (who among them brought this virus with them, too?) All major sport organizations and the NCAA have canceled or postponed its seasons and crowds of 500 or more are restricted.
However, going to crowded schools is still safe?
My own school has more than 800 students coming from all five boroughs, and many schools in the neighborhood where I teach have more than 1,000-2,000 students, so how does keeping schools open make logical sense? Are large populations of students immune from spreading COVID-19?
You are telling adults not to take the trains and buses to help mitigate the risks of infection, (CITI bike ridership is up) yet it’s ok to let New York City’s most vulnerable population ride worry free?
Despite science, warnings from the CDC and other countries, as well as countless medical professionals saying that a disruption to life is inevitable, you are acting as if everything is going to be normal in schools if they remain open.
I can assure you that things will be far from normal.
Over the last few years we have experienced an exponential increase in mental health issues in our school communities. Students experience “school anxiety” on a regular day, so what is going to happen to this already fragile group during a pandemic that leadership has no control over, nor any idea how to handle correctly? Citywide attendance on Friday was down 68 percent, what is going to happen as this crisis drags on and schools remain open?
As of right now, thousands of schools in seven states have closed because of the threat of COVID-19. On Friday, officials announced Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, and San Diego schools will close over the COVID-19 threat. Yet, NYC, the country’s largest school system is still open when we should have been among the first to close.
People are dying, but in the end, it’s not the COVID-19 threat I am worried about, it is your complete lack of awareness and understanding of the students within your own city. Students, who I have empowered to not only have a voice, but whom I encourage to be good citizens every single day.
In my classroom I teach them to be educated consumers of the media in these confusing, trying times — to always ask questions and seek answers. I teach them to be powerful advocates for their own education and their mental health — to voice their concerns when something doesn’t seem right.
And do you know what good, educated students eventually turn into? Empowered voters.
Despite everything else, here is the most infuriating and insensitive thing you have said about my students in concern to not closing the school system:
“What do you think would happen if you let a bunch of New York City school kids out for not a day, not a week, but three months?” he said. “You think they’re going to stay in isolation in their apartment?”
Your analogy is clear. When students are in school they should be treated like caged animals, but as soon as the zoo opens its doors, they will unleash their wild, uninhibited instincts onto the city. Not only was this statement irresponsible, it was highly offensive.
Let me tell you about my students, Mr. Mayor, the very ones who you claim to be reckless animals. My students care about the future of this city. They care about the future of this world, the leadership crises we face and the looming environmental disaster awaiting their future. They petition, protest, speak out about corruption and face off with the institutions that oppress them. Your lack of understanding and guidance is the very reason they speak out.
They are students who express their fears and aspirations and they want to live in a world that is not only free and equal, but one that listens to their problems and concerns.
They want to live in a world where they are treated like adults, not caged beasts who are in need of babysitting.
I implore you to close the schools during this National Emergency. It’s not only for the benefit of the city, but for the benefit of our students, teachers and administrators who empower our students every single day.
Proud AP English Lang./Journalism Teacher
Academy for Teachers Fellow
Believer in my students
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those solely of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Bennett or our school community as a whole.