After Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that in-person instruction at city schools would end for the foreseeable future due to the city’s rising COVID-19 rate, parents of in-person learners expressed frustration over the decision to close schools, citing low positivity rates, poor coordination between the mayor and Governor Andrew Cuomo, and a disruption that has forced parents to re-arrange their own schedules. 

In Manhattan, Lisa Brassell’s son is a special needs pre-K student who attends his District 75 school in person five days a week. (The city’s Department of Education has allowed D75 schools, which serve students with special needs, to operate five days a week provided they had enough staffing) 

An environmental chemist, Brassell had already divided her time between home and working in the lab. With her son now fully at home, and her daughter having already participated in blended learning, Brassell is now adjusting her work schedule for “fewer, but longer days.” 

De Blasio sympathized with parents having to change their work schedules a month and a half into the school year. 

“No one is happy about this decision, we all in-fact are feeling very sad about this decision, because so much good work has been put into keeping the schools open,” de Blasio said.

Brassell, however, believes the closures did not have the parents' interests in mind, but rather the interests of school labor unions, which held de Blasio to his promise of closing schools if the seven-day citywide positive testing average reached 3%, as it did on Wednesday. 

“It's insulting for them to say it's for the parents when it's for the teacher's union,” Brassell said, adding that Learning Bridges programs are open because they largely have non-union employees working there. 

The decision to close at the 3% seven-day positivity mark was made in July when rates were stabilizing and low. The threshold was agreed to by school labor unions. 

Re-arranging schedules has also been challenging for Eve Robinson, the mother of a kindergartener and second grader in Brooklyn. After hearing schools would close, she reached out to other parents to discuss other options. 

“Already, parents in our class are talking about podding up together to share the school duty and free up time for work,” Robinson said. “Other people I know are already enrolled in private programs that supplement the remote days and they are leaning in there, looking to increase time. Kids are still going to be together as families struggle to make this work. They just aren’t doing it in a school building.”  

Laura, a parent in Park Slope who declined to give her last name, said she understood the decision to shutter schools given the rising positive test rates for COVID across the city.

“You have to think about teachers and people who are really affected by this, and we’re all affected by it one way or another. But it’s just a crappy situation to be in for everybody, ”Laura said. 

The 3% threshold seemed like an arbitrary figure “that has no scientific basis,” Lisa Lawrence, the parent of an in-person learner, said. She doesn’t fault her child’s school over how the year has gone, crediting them as being flexible and rising to the occasion on remote learning, but she does blame de Blasio. 

“The fake optimism that the mayor tries to inject into his daily briefings falls flat and is insulting to my intelligence,” Lawrence said. “I feel like Cuomo wants the city to reach a dire point before he swoops in to play savior. But the reality is, NYC is already at a dire point because the mayor has a track record of making poor decisions, especially when it comes to our kids.”

Asked how she would sum up her emotions, Lawrence described them as “frustration, disappointment, anger, but not surprised.” 

The timing of the closures came as the DOE was starting to process new in-person learners expected to begin blended learning on November 30th. For Pilar Vahey, the closure of schools prolongs her children’s remote learning experience, which she points out is especially challenging for her 11-year-old son. 

“He is really struggling with remote learning, so this is not good timing for him. We also have a 9-year-old who is managing better, but not really engaged and his teachers recommended he switch to hybrid,” said Vahey. “Everyone at the schools is trying to make it work for the kids, so it's not for lack of effort, but the design of some of these materials with all different colors and hyperlinks and the small text boxes is just super annoying. Plus they are not self-sufficient. They need constant oversight, which is just our family's experience.”

Additional reporting by Gwynne Hogan