Neglect or Aid

%22Remote+learning%22+by+The+Open+University+%28OU%29+is+licensed+under+CC+BY-NC-ND+2.0

“Remote learning” by The Open University (OU) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

New Yorkers, did we really think this would work? Remote Learning in New York City has been a complete disaster and in-person instruction needs to resume in the fall. On Sunday, March 15th I made the decision to fly down to sunny Florida and self-quarantine once I entered my home. This followed approximately two weeks of intense and extremely anxious waiting to see if the NYC Schools Chancellor would close the schools out of safety concerns. I personally felt very unsafe while going to school immediately beforehand. After receiving harsh backlash from students, parents, and teachers, Chancellor Carranza decided to shut the public schools down. He only did this after the Teacher’s Union threatened to go on strike if the Chancellor did not take this measure to protect everyone. Schools were closed the week the pandemic hit, as opposed to the week before. Once I got down to Florida, I finished the work that I had been doing and was anticipating more assignments. 

It took over a week for the city to roll out “Remote Learning.” This consisted of teachers assigning work and virtual instruction over Zoom infrequently during the week. One of the unfortunate limitations of virtual instruction is that students as well as teachers cannot stay glued to their devices for extended periods of time. Another faulty part of this new schooling policy was that attendance during live class was not mandatory and schools could not discipline students for not attending. I attended live instruction because I felt that it would be beneficial to show my teachers that I was invested in my work and was not there to waste their time. However, that was not the case with other students. The results for Remote Learning early on were not pleasant. “Through April 14, the connection rate for kids in grades 9 to 12 was just 77.1 percent – as compared to the 87.7 percent attendance rate for students physically going to school before the coronavirus closure,” (Algar). Considering NYC public schools have over 1.1 million students, the process for getting the vast majority of them to participate would be very difficult, unless it was divided up by each school. This shows failure by the NYC Department of Education in terms of keeping students accountable for their learning. At this point, no one knew if the schools were going to remain closed until the end of the semester. It was very important to get students engaged in Remote Learning in the beginning because it was unclear how long it would last. If students didn’t participate at the start, why would they do it at any other point? 

Another issue with Remote Learning was that the DOE promised to send iPads to students who did not have access to a device. In theory, this would be perfect because many students do not have access to a device. However, the time it takes to ship out 175,000 devices that schools already owned in addition to purchasing 300,000 iPads is astronomical. Allegedly, students were waiting weeks for their new devices and they “have gone weeks without consistent access to schoolwork and have slipped further behind their peers,” (Zimmerman). Teachers attempted to combat this with mailing out work packets, but even this was unsuccessful. The DOE reports on their website that 72.8% of students are economically disadvantaged. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every single student that falls into that category did not have access to a device, but most of them did not for a long time. The DOE did not perform its ethical duty of giving students access to learning materials, especially while knowing that such a high percentage of students are economically disadvantaged. In addition, the Chancellor announced that no one will fail any classes. This further incentivised students to not participate in Remote Learning because they didn’t have an obligation to attend, and grades were thrown out the window. 

My experience with Remote Learning is that I felt distant from everyone else, and teachers were never able to communicate with each other as to when assignments were being issued. This led to an exorbitant amount of work that even I felt very overwhelmed with. When students are at home with nothing to do, why would they all of a sudden decide to complete their assignments? 

An important question for everyone to wonder about is what school in the fall is going to look like. As for the city’s “strong” leadership, Mayor de Blasio himself said that he has “no idea” what is going to happen. The DOE also sent a survey for students and parents to find out whether or not they feel comfortable going into school with certain safety precautions. Even if the DOE wanted to gauge parent and student opinion on how schools should reopen, it comes off as that the DOE has not a single clue of how to reopen the schools. Sending out a survey means absolutely nothing because it is subject to what state laws will be and what the Teacher’s Union will agree to. 

One option that has been brought up by both Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza is Blended (or Hybrid) Learning. This form of learning lets students have both in-person learning and online learning. There is a very short and simple answer as to why Blended/Hybrid Learning cannot work. Students cannot be left at home the entire day that they are doing online learning. Not every student has a parent or sibling that can stay home with them. Even more so, when the economy is fully reopened, parents will have to go to work. When the pandemic started, the Department of Education scrambled to set up Remote Learning because they wanted to keep kids off the streets and doing things they shouldn’t be. However, under that premise, it was only able to come to fruition due to parents being at home and them having the ability to watch their children. Some parents are essential workers and were not even able to watch over their kids. The DOE has to do what is legal in the state in terms of letting children stay at home alone. The New York State Office of Children and Family Services says “Some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age. Likewise, there are some teenagers who are too irresponsible or who have special needs that limit their ability to be safe if they are left alone.” Schools do not have the right to determine that all students are intelligent or capable enough to operate alone at home. Blended/Hybrid will also not work if schools continue to not deliver devices to students who are in need of them. 

After failing the Remote Learning model, the best move for the DOE at this time would be to resume in-person learning. In fact, there is already live instruction scheduled for the summer, and the DOE is in talks to have in-person learning. All it would take for the schools to reopen is consistent deep cleaning, as well as the use of masks when maintaining social distancing is not possible. After letting students fall behind months upon months of schoolwork, the DOE will further hinder its students’ ability to receive hands-on instruction if it does not resume in-person learning. How will students be accountable for their learning if they don’t receive any work and are not required to even attend a class session? The time has never been safer for a return to school. Just reported a few days ago, New York State now has the lowest coronavirus spread rate in America. These numbers could be skewed, and it should be kept in mind that they are coming from Governor Cuomo directly. He may have an agenda to make it seem like the numbers have gone down. Either way, for the state of New York to go from the highest spread rate to the lowest, some improvements had to be made. This should give Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza motivation to speed up the reopening process for schools. 

Reviving in-person learning is the only way to move forward for the NYC public education system because it will boost grades and allow students to actually be involved with their individual learning process. In addition, it will set a great example for other cities in terms of reopening. Parents who are not able to go to work because their child is home all day will no longer have to worry. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza should absolutely take advantage of the state reopening and declare the resuming of in-person learning. While students are placed in the care of their schools, it is the responsibility of the Mayor and the Chancellor to ensure that students are kept safe. Under these safety measures, students will be very safe and their education will go back to a normal calibration. As a New York City public school student that has experienced the limitations of Remote Learning, I demand that Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza open the schools and resume in-person learning when the school year restarts in September.