coronavirus · DOE Fails · Hybrid Learning · NYC Schools · NYC Schools Reopening · online learning · remote learning · Social-Emotional Learning

A Matter Of Trust: Why Some Families Have Lost All Faith In NYC Schools

On Thursday, December 10, 2020, almost exactly nine months after he first closed New York City public schools, Mayor Bill De Blasio triumphantly announced that he finally has a plan for dealing with the disruption and learning loss.

He calls it the 2021 Student Achievement Plan! (But wasn’t the bulk of the disruption and learning loss in 2020? Shh, grown-ups are talking.)

And what is included in his 2021 Student Achievement Plan?

There are definitely steps!

They are:

  1. Getting a baseline of what ground we lost
  2. Increasing high quality digital curriculum available for every single school
  3. Launching a one-stop digital learning hub
  4. Deepening professional development
  5. Expanding “Parent University”
  6. Confront the trauma and mental health crisis faced by our students

Those are definitely all issues parents and teachers have been complaining about since last spring. When will these steps be implemented?

Oh, you know, same as we said back in July… soon

And how will they be implemented?

We definitely have an answer for that one! The answer is: In the coming months.

But… isn’t the learning loss happening now, and has been for almost a year?

Sure, sure, but let’s talk about how great it is that our youngest learners are back in the classroom five days a week!

At which school are learners back in the classroom five days a week?

Oh, you know… schools.

Private ones?

No, no, of course not! Well, yes. But, we mean public ones!

Which public ones?

Public schools! So many. Too many to name, actually.

But aren’t the vast majority of kids still learning remotely?

Exactly! Which is why our new 2021 Student Achievement Plan is so heavily focused on improving remote instruction and parent support! We are incredibly responsive to parent desires. We are always listening!

All summer long, you kept telling us that the majority of parents want in-person learning. And yet, when offered the choice, only about a third returned to school buildings. Even when you gave them an ultimatum and said there would be just one more chance to return to hybrid, instead of the regular opt-in periods you promised, over 700,000 are still staying home. Also, you insisted that it were low-income families who were clamoring for a return to in-person learning, when the reality is almost the exact opposite.

Next question, please.

(Ed. note: This is not an actual transcript of the Mayor’s Thursday press conference.)

Nine months into the pandemic, Hizzoner still remains genuinely confused about why families — especially low-income and minority ones, the ones who are supposed to love him the most thanks to everything he’s already done for them — are not buying his declarations of how great and/or safe hybrid learning is.

It just doesn’t make sense to him. Why are they constantly so ungrateful? Why do they insist on looking at the facts as they see them, rather than how he’d like them to be seen, and coming to their own, contradictory conclusions?

Back in February of 2020, when COVID-19 was just the murmur of a rumor in other countries, I wrote about an East Harlem high school, the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, where students had organized to protest their school becoming secretly unscreened.

The Department of Education assured that wasn’t happening. New York Times education reporter Eliza Shapiro, instantly believed the denials.

MCSM students —  53% Hispanic, 20% Asian, and 19% Black, as well as 80% Free/Reduced Price Lunch — did not.

To help explain why that was, I wrote:

Shapiro just could not, for the life of her, understand why students and parents weren’t swallowing the DOE’s denials as surely as she was. Maybe it’s because, unlike NYT reporters, NYC parents and students remember all the other times they’ve been deceived in the past.

They remember the lies about Universal Pre-Kindergarten demand and availability, and they remember the promises that were made – and broken – about educating kids with special needs. They remember manipulated waitlists, grade fixing, cockroach-infested buildings, listening sessions where nobody listened, and Chancellor Richard Carranza insisting he doesn’t have the authority to change admissions at the five smaller SHSAT schools – before reversing himself. And coming up with another excuse.

They remember the DOE push to change admissions to Medgar Evers College Preparatory School, a Brooklyn middle and high school boasting a 95% four-year graduation rate and a 67% college readiness rate, while being 88% Black and 71% FRL, by lumping MECPS in with “privileged (presumably white) parents trying to keep low-income children of color from sharing the resources of their high-performing school.”

African-Americans have the highest proportional opt-out rate from their zoned schools of any racial group in NYC. Considering how Black families have been treated in the past, I would expect them to trust the system and its promises LESS than white families who have previously had mostly positive experiences and be MORE likely to explore their other options. While those who, like Shapiro, have had mostly positive experiences with the DOE are happy to accept the denials of secret admissions changes at face value, it’s very likely that the parents and students of MCSM – and many, many other schools – know better. They’ve been lied to before.

The next time Mayor De Blasio wonders why low-income and minority parents aren’t taking him at his word about how great and safe hybrid learning is, he should take a look back at all the promises he’s broken to the families who need quality public education the most. Maybe that will make it easier from him to understand.

And, if not, I’ll break it down:

They just don’t trust you.

They just don’t trust you.

And, once more for the folks in the back row: They. Just. Don’t. Trust. You!

(By the way, at the same press conference, the 60,000 families still waiting for those remote learning devices they were promised last academic year were told they’d be getting them by December 23rd. After nine months of failed distribution, the city swore that 60,000 devices would be delivered within two weeks. If you’re one of the people who does not trust the DOE’s promises and has devices you would like to donate to a family in need, please click here for details on how you can do so.)

What do you think?

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