What to Know
- A Brooklyn elementary school principal's letter to parents indicating what classes may look like in the fall has many parents frustrated
- The letter from Park Slope P.S. 107 principal Eve Litwack says kids may only be allowed in-person instruction one out of every three school days; they may have to wear masks at all times except for when eating
- Students also likely will have to remain socially distanced from one another; traditional programs like art and physical education may have to be held entirely remotely if at all
A letter a Brooklyn elementary school principal sent to parents late on Father's Day is giving yet another indication of what classes might look like in September -- and according to at least one report, it has parents beyond exasperated.
Eve Litwack, principal of P.S. 107 in Park Slope, told parents that while much remains uncertain as far as school in the fall, she's looking at the possibility of splitting classes into thirds; each group would have in-person instruction at most one day out of every three, with the other two days dedicated to remote learning.
Her school serves nearly 600 kids in pre-K through fifth grade -- and based on the building's square footage, she says she can't ensure adequate social distancing with more than a third of students and staff in the facility at once. She also said students and teachers will most likely be required to wear face coverings at all times except while they're eating. How to enforce social distancing and other precautions with young students, especially pre-schoolers, remains a question.
"This is anything but ideal, I know. In order to accommodate this number of students and staff, we also would need to utilize all spaces in the building for instruction including the cafeteria, the fourth floor, and some of our other smaller rooms and offices," Litwack wrote. "This could mean that our specialty teachers would assist grade level teachers with classroom instruction instead of teaching their specialty subjects."
It could also mean no in-person art, music, science, technology, library or physical education classes, as parents have come to expect. Those would have to be held remotely or within the confines of the homeroom classroom. Students would remain socially distanced from their peers at all times within the classroom, and there could be no sharing of classroom materials such as math manipulatives and library books, the letter said. Outdoor play in very small groups with no shared equipment would likely be permissible.
Some parents are frustrated with the initial framework. As one mother told the New York Post, "At a certain point this isn’t school anymore. Parents don’t know what to do.”
Most parents seem just to want some kind of answer or plan regarding what is happening this fall, and want it sooner rather than later.
"I just want a definite something, even if it alternating — I just want an answer," said Yolanda Swinton, who is also a teacher. "It's definitely not OK for parents to have an answer in late August, because you have to plan. So no matter what the answer is, I would like that answer soon."
An expert in online teaching said that educators need to be better trained for remote learning, adding that the real losers in the proposed situation are the parents.
"If they're going back to work and the students are maybe or maybe not going back to a building every other week, how do you plan for that?" asked Emily Feistritzer. "What the pandemic has done is really force us to think about what learning means and how to do it."
"This is the grim reality we face when school reopens. If the virus subsides during the summer, these guidelines could be eased somewhat," Litwack wrote. "There is no good or easy answer to reopening schools. Once it begins it is likely to be a long and difficult process before things start to feel more normal."
She emphasized nothing is known for certain at this time and the state and city will have the final call as far as the reopening of schools in September. The five boroughs just entered Phase II of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's four-phase reopening plan on Monday. Education is slated for the final phase of the process.
The city's Department of Education released a statement when asked about the principal's letter Tuesday, saying in part, "We do not yet know what this virus will look like in September, but we are planning multiple reopening scenarios that will give every child the academic support they need while keeping them safe. Our goal is to provide as much in-person learning as possible." A spokesperson for the department echoed de Blasio's notion that as much in-person learning as possible remains the goal, but stressed that no final decision had been made.
Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio reaffirmed New York City's plan is to incorporate as much in-person learning as is safe when classes are scheduled to resume on Sept. 10, though he said the city must prepare for "every eventuality." On Tuesday, he said that the city is "waiting to see the direction of this pandemic" before making a call regarding schools.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza sent a letter to key stakeholders in early June as well indicating remote instruction would likely still be a factor in the fall.
Also likely part of the transition: social distancing and split schedules. Carranza said building capacity would be adjusted to conform with CDC, state and city guidelines on public safety. Splitting schedules could involve having certain children attend some days, while other children attend different days.
Schools will also need ample PPE supplies and likely some means of monitoring health indicators to protect children, who may show different symptoms of COVID than adults or none at all. Temperature checks may also be a component of the multi-faceted strategy that will be in place when kids return to class.
Building procedures will need to ensure limited movement of students and staff into, out of, and within the buildings and allow for enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols. School busing and food operations will also need to reflect new health standards.