New York City school staffers with kids of their own say they are still awaiting answers on how they’re supposed to work in-person and manage their children at the same time under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s blended learning plan this fall.
De Blasio has announced that the city will provide childcare spots for 100,000 kids in “Learning Lab” places like libraries and community organizations, for working parents who can’t monitor their children at home during their remote learning days.
The city has yet to announce further details on what Department of Education staffers with young children are supposed to do for childcare while they’re working in-person. It's unclear if DOE employees will be given priority in placing their children in Learning Lab programs.
“I don't understand the magical thinking that's happening, that suddenly all of these teachers and parents are going to be able to find childcare at the last minute during a pandemic. I just don't see it happening,” said Melissa Williams, an occupational therapist who works in District 6 schools in Inwood, and has a son going into sixth grade this fall.
At 10 years old, Williams’s son is too young to stay home by himself on his remote learning days while she’s working in schools. The different blended learning schedules just compound the issues, she said.
“If it's two days here, three days there, I don't see how that's going to be a predictable and easy schedule -- not only for the childcare workers, but also the parents and employees,” she said. “It's definitely going to not work for teachers who are also parents... This just gets even more ironic, considering how much of this is being framed as helping working parents get their kids out of the house.”
There have been no updates to the Learning Lab childcare plans -- on Monday, de Blasio said the city is still looking for space for childcare in addition to expanding school sites: “There's a separate effort to also find space for childcare, to support parents who need kids in childcare on the days their kids are not in person learning," de Blasio told reporters.
“As the Mayor has said, we’re wholly committed to providing relief for working parents. Health and safety is guiding our approach at every step of the way, and we’ll continue to share more information with families throughout the month of August,” said the mayor’s spokesperson Avery Cohen in an emailed comment Tuesday.
De Blasio's plan to reopen schools is encountering growing criticism from educators. A group of teachers and parents marched on Foley Square in demanding that schools remain closed until there have been no new cases in the city for 14 days and rapid testing for coronavirus is available, among other provisions. The United Federation of Teachers union president has pressed for a dedicated contact tracing program in schools and more safety measures.
Other questions linger for parents who work for city schools. One high school teacher with a 5-year-old daughter enrolling in kindergarten pointed out that there’s been no clarity on what the DOE policy will be if someone in her family is exposed to COVID-19.
“Another thing that we're considering as we try to figure out what to do for childcare, is the likelihood that at some point I will get quarantined,” said Emma Haddad, who teaches math at an Upper West Side high school and says she will be exposed to many of the school’s 400 students when they come for in-person classes.
While getting sick is a concern, Haddad said she’s more confused over the question of whether her daughter could go to school if her mother’s school was shut down and switched to remote learning. “What does that mean for us in terms of like, can my child go to school? Can we have someone come in our home and provide childcare?” said Haddad, who also has a one-year child.
Bronx middle teacher Damian Griffin has a 13-year-old daughter who is old enough to stay home by herself for remote learning. Griffin said since he and his wife both work in different public schools, the family decided she would start 8th grade remotely.
“It just seemed like putting ourselves back into so many uncertainties” to opt for blended learning, Griffin said. While his daughter would be excited to go back in-person, “she would be taking public transportation to get to the school. And that was the biggest worry,” he said.