Some workers said they had little to do on opening day of the Regional Enrichment Centers that the city set up on Monday to provide care for the children of essential personnel battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Victoria, a Department of Education nurse from the Bronx who didn’t want to give her last name because she wasn't authorized to speak to the press, said she and two dozen other staffers waited in vain at a Regional Enrichment Center on the Upper East Side when no students showed up on Monday.
“I got up this morning at 5 a.m. I left my own children at home. I drove here. I'm passing numerous signs on the road saying, "New Yorkers be safe, stay home." And here we all are, all the staff here," Victoria said in a phone interview Monday. "There are no kids here."
As a nurse, Victoria said she could be of more service working at a hospital instead of sitting in an empty pre-K classroom.
When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the closure of public schools through April 20th, he said the city would open Regional Enrichment Centers for the children of essential personnel and first responders who needed childcare while they worked. The centers would offer childcare for the younger children, and support for students who are engaged in remote learning.
The Department of Education received about 6,300 responses to their initial enrollment surveys for the Regional Enrichment Centers, according to a DOE spokesperson.
Of those responses, 4,500 students said they planned to attend a center starting Monday. Actual attendance numbers for Monday were not immediately available.
The city opened 93 sites, staffed by volunteers and paid employees, intended to serve some 57,000 students. DOE officials said about 5,000 staffers from the DOE and community-based organizations stepped up to work at the sites.
Alec Shea, a graduate student and substitute teacher, was assigned to a center in Bensonhurst and said 26 kids had registered but none showed up Monday.
”We got basically no information in advance, most of the emails were sent at like 1 in the morning, which I understand, considering the circumstances,” he said. “I would also add that the administrator in charge here, though he was technically assigned for an afternoon shift, arrived at 6:50 a.m. and is running this while still serving as a principal elsewhere. Things aren’t going super-smoothly, but this is the fastest and most conscientious I’ve ever seen the DOE be.”
One concern was how the centers would maintain social distancing policy -- in particular with the youngest children.
“How do you even keep 3, 4, 5 year olds six feet apart from each other?” asked Victoria, who was working in the pre-K center.
The DOE said the centers are thoroughly cleaned and students undergo wellness checks daily.
“Spaces, surfaces and objects at RECs are routinely cleaned and disinfected. All RECs have a nurse directly on-site to provide care if someone at the site experiencing symptoms,” the DOE said.
When parents arrive with children, they will be asked about the health of any children being dropped off before entry. Parents must conduct a wellness check and assess their children at home before bringing them to the Regional Enrichment Centers.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said he considered the first Regional Enrichment Centers day to have been “good news.”
“Now these are the children of the men and women who are keeping New York City running and safe during this crisis,” Carranza said during a press conference Monday evening with de Blasio. “This is an important service to New Yorkers. Each one of these 4,500 students represents a family of a first responder or critical care worker that does not need to worry about childcare and can continue to support our city during this critical time.”
In other updates, Carranza also noted that the city’s grab-and-go meals program to feed students at more than 400 schools across the city had distributed 78,000 meals Monday -- including 246 meals sent via Door Dash to medically fragile students.
In the effort to connect students enrolled in the remote learning program, Carranza said the city has issued 175,000 devices -- laptops, tablets and netbooks -- so far, with plans to hand out another 300,000 iPads in the coming weeks.
Carranza urged “flexibility and patience” in the new school environment. "We're flying the plane as we're building the plane," he said.