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What NYC Parents Are Planning (And Hoping, and Fearing) For Back To School 2021

Last year at this time, New York City public school families had no idea what the plan for returning in the fall might be. This year is starting to feel like deja vu all over again. Guidelines keep changing on a daily basis, along with building quarantine and closing policies.

In light of all the uncertainty, we asked a broad swath of NYC parents about their plans for the fall. And we received a broad swath of answers:

We’re Staying Public:

MC: I’m sending my kids back to public school and hope there is no remote option. Remote learning doesn’t work and it doesn’t enable teachers to give students the same kind of rigor they can inside of the classroom. I believe in a public education and am sticking things out with the DOE. Besides, I believe things will get better when DeBlasio is out of office. Homeschooling wouldn’t work for my children, who require and desire consistent social interactions with their peers. However, I’m not for mandatory covid testing of my fully vaccinated children. 

CW: I’m going to proceed with kindergarten. I’m a single mom. If schools close or go hybrid, I might have to go upstate and live with my mom until I can count on school for the childcare I need. We’re just going to put our masks on, heads down, and hope for the best!

NA: I’m curious to learn if other parents have shared concerns with you regarding returning to school in person when teachers are expected to wear masks all day? Has anyone assessed how this may impact children who are just starting to learn sounds and connecting sounds to letters, when they cannot see the teacher’s mouth? Is the DOE looking at encouraging clear masks for those teaching the youngest ones? 

BP: We got a G&T placement. I am not too sure about where G&T is headed and I don’t want to have to change her schools, so my daughter already started at Success Academy.

JG: We’ve got three kids, aged 15, 13 and 12. Last year definitely had a deep effect on the mental health in this house. Even with the rise in cases and risk, we will make every effort for all three to go back. We truly feel that they need to be in school, see teachers, and for the two who started at new schools last year, make some friends. So unless the city tells us otherwise, they’ll be back in September. 

CY: I am a public school teacher. My daughter will be transferring to a 1st grade G&T program.  We plan to get a school bus, however, the person who takes care of bussing retired and we haven’t heard anything.

HM: I’m planning on sending my twins to public K in September. I spoke with the assistant principal to voice my concerns with my kids being in separate classes due to covid. She didn’t seem very receptive and basically said they’d be in different classes unless the school was told twins were to be in the same class like last year. Now that we know Covid isn’t going anywhere, I’m waiting for guidance. I sent an email to the mayor’s office but haven’t heard back.

CG: Public school, wish I could afford private. It’s the only reason why they’re going back to public.

We’re Going Private:

CM: Staying in catholic school for year 2 – no way going back to the DOE, they lost my trust.

ES: We have made the difficult decision to pull our rising 4th grade boys out of public school.  Our boys have been at a strong downtown elementary school but last year’s education was so abysmal and now, with the pandemic still raging, we don’t expect this year to be any different.  Last year, when they were hybrid, the remote days had no live instruction. They eliminated science, social studies, art and, for most of the year, music from the curriculum. Their reading level wasn’t tested since winter, their report cards referred to the other kid’s name, and no one responded when I asked for follow-up. Even if the pandemic was not still raging (giving the public schools the excuse to continue to water down the curriculum), no plan has been communicated as to how they will bridge the learning loss (or even if they intend to try). So, we decided to pull our kids out and put them in private school for the fall.  So many of their friends have already been pulled out of the public school that my boys didn’t even have to worry about leaving their friends. And they are just excited about actually having the opportunity to learn next year.  It is refreshing to see that excitement about school for the first time in almost 18 months.

YB: I’m a product of the NYC public school system and even now my eyes tear up at the difficult decision of moving our daughter into a private school starting this Fall 2021. My story is one of a public school student from Washington Heights and Harlem, mostly Hispanic and Black populated schools. It is a long story with the main heroes being my honors and AP teachers, plus a relentless mother. The main villains were the overcrowded classrooms and nay-sayers, from the college counselor that advised me not to apply to competitive schools to my college advisor who told me that the main reason I got into my competitive college was affirmative action. Even with this, I remained an advocate for NYC public schools as a way of bringing equality and equity for people like me. My daughter’s story is one of attending a public school in the Upper West Side, a luxury compared to my own story. My daughter is a graduate of the 2020 kindergarten pandemic year. For us, this was a year that ended in total confusion. For example, across multiple teachers and the assistant principal there appeared to be confusion about the expected reading level standard and assessment process. What I saw was a divided class – ranging from students reading Harry Potter books to students that for some reason could not read basic words in their own handwriting. My husband and I grew concerned about the ability of schools (funding, resources, etc…) to bridge this gap, particularly during the critical elementary school years. By Winter 2021, we made the very difficult decision to accept a private school offer.

We’re Leaving Town:

IP: We are still living in our country home and I have registered 3 kids in elementary, middle, and high school in the local school system. My rising 9th grader got accepted into an SHSAT school, but between the  uncertainties of next year and the continued acceleration of the infection rates, I can’t risk having my children at home for the whole year again.

PM: Leaving State! 

We Want Remote:

MK: I want remote for those families that want it… both my kids are under 12 and the variant COVID is not going anywhere. There should be an option and parents should be able to choose what’s best for them. To be 100% in person when kids under 12 years cannot receive the vaccine is a plan for disaster, and I am scared to send my kids to school. 

ML: I’m nervous about sending my unvaccinated Kindergartener to in-person school with Delta raging and what looks to be fewer mitigation measures than last year. We got off the waitlist to a wonderful district G&T program. It would be a shame to have to give up the spot due to Delta concerns, which we will absolutely do if no remote option is offered. I don’t understand why one can’t be offered, at least to under-12s for just a few months until they’re eligible to be vaccinated! Is the mayor really willing to sacrifice our most vulnerable children? Don’t know if he plans to continue in politics, but this seems like political suicide.

MP: Advocating for a remote option for at least the first half of the school year until my 6 year old can be vaccinated. (Also advocating for teachers and all other public school personnel and any external vendors to be mandated to be vaccinated). I would like to see the DOE consider pushing back the start date for elementary schools two or so weeks past when middle/high schools return — those schools will have at least a portion of their students vaccinated – before returning the fully unvaxxed elementary children to the classroom. It might be useful to first see if we can keep the partially vaxxed community of middle/HS kids safe from Delta in a school environment.

JK: I believe that everything will be decided at the 11th hour. I truly think that a remote option should be given, and I will gladly sign up my kids for it. I totally feel for parents who have to work and who have no support, because I’ve been there, but there are also those who can accommodate remote learners. I’ve seen how overcrowded classrooms were pre-Covid and I do not believe that they will any less – schools are not made out of rubber and there are only so many kids that can study in gyms and cafeterias. If we want to give our children the social-emotional comfort they need – we need to rethink what’s important.  They can catch up on their math – but is it worth losing a family member over, or getting sick?

For details on how some schools were able to remain open all of last year, click here

Also last year, thousands of remote learning students didn’t receive adequate devices from the DOE. 

This year, because no remote option is set to be offered, the DOE is not even distributing any. On the off chance that everything doesn’t go smoothly the first weeks of school (again) and buildings need to close (again), forcing some into remote learning anyway, that risks leaving the neediest students without learning devices.

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