Maggie Connolly ’21
Just before Thanksgiving, New York City closed all public schools due to the city’s 3% positivity rate for a consistent seven days. This was the measure Mayor Bill de Blasio decided would be the threshold for keeping the school system opened when he was one of the first big-city mayors to reopen schools at the beginning of this academic year.
The announcement in and of itself was met with much confusion when notoriously late Mayor de Blasio did not make it to his 10 am press conference until 3 pm. At another news conference with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a politician who has been placed on a pedestal for handling the pandemic in the city with grace, yelled at a reporter who asked about whether public schools would remain open.
According to NPR, there is little to no impact on the increased positivity rate and public schools being open. This data is from studies conducted both on a global scale and in the United States. In fact, leaving schools closed could lead to even more adverse effects according to Dr. Danielle Dooley who cites mental health struggles, hunger, obesity from inactivity at home, missing medical care and risk of domestic child abuse. All of this is on top of a loss of education in a crucial time in their life.
De Blasio and Cuomo’s decision came before any decision to shut down gyms or bars and restaurants in the city, two indoor activities that can easily spread the disease due to high volumes of people and frequent face-to-face contact. In making this decision, New York leadership has made the conscious decision to place their economy over children’s education.
On top of leaving their children behind, the city has also negatively impacted parents in low-income communities with the rash decision to close schools. Practically overnight, single-parent households, or even households where both parents work full time, had to find daily accommodations and care for their children who would now be home through Christmas.
The whiplash continued earlier this month when they announced that New York City will reopen some public schools, starting with elementary schools and schools or programs for children with severe disabilities. Schools could close again at any second, according to the New York Times, because of their purposefully low threshold for closures: two cases in different parts of the same building without clear contact tracing among teachers or students.
Although the city came to the decision to reopen skills due to immense backlash from parents and public health officials alike, they are still not addressing the real problem of indoor dining, gyms, and shopping locations. Any closure of small businesses again would be detrimental to many family’s livelihoods, but this calls to question the federal government’s need to step in with some sort of stimulus for those businesses, which looks unlikely at this juncture.
Although Governor Cuomo has threatened the closing of bars and restaurants if hospitalization rates do not slow in the coming days, the emphasis of closures on the public-school systems before recreational activities presents a disconnect between de Blasio’s emphasis on being an advocate for the public-school system. The school systems should be the first priority of the state, and stimulus should follow business closures. Ultimately, the decision to close the schools before threatening to shut down indoor dining and gyms was in incredibly bad taste – it was rash and an unnecessary first step of closures in the city.