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Are principals being set up to take the fall?

July 24, 2020 pm31 8:06 pm

I

The mayor was planning to reopen NYC public schools in September. It is a disaster on the NYC horizon. But it is far enough away to be avoided. The mayor now coyly claims he doesn’t know which way he will decide,  and that he won’t decide until the eleventh hour. The UFT and CSA (principals union) are talking about problems with plans. The UFT has focused on staffing and safety. The CSA has a broader attack, including how unrealistic the “scheduling models” are. But neither UFT president Mulgrew nor CSA president Mark Cannizzaro have openly come out and called for the plans to be halted. Skeptical, but political.  I hate political responses, especially when a right/wrong response (this won’t work, let’s plan for remote) is available.

II

Imagine, if you will, a ‘normal’ year – first day of school. Parents, mostly moms, arriving with kindergartners. Many of the kids are excited. Some are scared, and clutch at their parent’s pant leg. Some are in tears. Introduction. Separation. Some parents leave fast. Others stay…. While five other grades are finding new teachers, new classrooms, and some new classmates. Now imagine this masked. Now imagine some parents there on the A day, when their child is a C. Imagine tiny children confronted by strangers in masks.

Or imagine if you will, the first week of high school. Assume they start September 21. (What, you say, no one has announced a delayed start?  Don’t worry, I answer, they will, unless they go all-remote first). Monday teachers meet their classes. And Tuesday teachers meet the next quarter of their classes. Wednesday teachers meet the next quarter of their classes. Thursday teachers meet the last quarter of their classes. Students traveling by subway or bus to get to their schools. And each day, the same problems. Students going to the wrong room. Teachers going to the wrong room. Ineffective social distancing – hard to keep students apart. Nervousness, fear, discomfort. Not too much learning.

By the way, plenty of high schools will be doing (if they can work it) a four day cycle. Let’s think about the days that an A student (cohort A, not letter grade) will be present:  Monday 9/21. Friday 9/25, Friday 10/2, 10/8, 10/15, 10/21, 10/27, 11/2, 11/9, 11/16, 11/20, 11/30, 12/4, 12/10, 12/16, 12/22. That’s it for 2020.  All this fuss over 16, messed up, in person days.

I kind of imagine elementary chaos, secondary risk of disease spread. The story will be more complex. But we all can imagine it…

Hazard Symbol

Randall Munroe’s combination radioactive, high-voltage, laser-emitting biohazard (that makes the floor slippery) needs to be updated: the hazards need to be separated by at least six feet, and where’s the mask?

III

The victims of chaos? Everyone involved. If the opening day is a stressful mess, and so is the next day, and the next, the tone is set. We all lose. But chaos also means disorder, and parents clustered to drop off and pick up, and teachers trying to social distance, but with needy young children and nervous adults… This is not a good way to avoid spread. At least for the younger children, they are not effective at spreading the virus. The same is not true of adults, nor of high school and even middle school aged children, who will be mixing on the trains, and despite our best efforts, at school, and on the trains again. We are looking at a source of new clusters.

Who might get sick? Students, but the biggest threat is to families and school staff. New York City already has 70 school dead. I know a few of them. I know someone who is not counted. Every loss is a loss.

IV

Who will be blamed? So here’s the meat of this article.

The Department of Education has devised scheduling models, and has “empowered” principals to choose one. If the principals find something better, they can apply for an exemption, but smart alternates are already being turned down. In other words, Ms. Principal, it is your choice, as long as you choose something unworkable that we have approved.

The DoE will then blame Ms. Principal for the first day chaos.

The Department of Education is developing safety protocols. Here is what the language will look like: “Hallways. Maintain six foot distancing wherever possible in hallways. Where it is not possible, ensure that everyone is wearing masks”. That’s it. The actual implementation of these vague guidelines?  That will fall on the principals. How many details will not be spelled out? Will it be possible for principals to actually keep their school communities safe?

No matter, if there is an outbreak, the DoE will blame Mr. Principal for not following their vague protocols.

Will anyone else get blame? Maybe people like me, chapter leaders, since we have some role in the discussions – but I doubt much. It won’t be my name certifying that the plan will work and that the school will be safe.

Carranza? de Blasio? Nah. Their first day motorcades will be directed to the 17 schools where things are running smoothly, not the 1700 others. The press will get them all smiles, divorced from reality.

V

Strange stuff for me to write. Usually I castigate abusive principals, incompetents, inexperienced, poorly trained principals. But this time? The writing is on the wall.

This is why the principals union has the strongest stance so far. <– That link is to an article in the NY Post. I have the full text here: CSA letter. (I’ve reformatted it). The CSA also has a list of hard-hitting questions, here: CSA Questions (I’ve reformatted this one, too)

Think of tearful first day of kindergarten. Think of headlines when a long-commute school has the first big corona cluster.

This is why principals are opting for plans that might work. This is why principals may be willing to defy Carranza.

Carranza is making the principals his fall guy. He’s pushing them under the bus. NYC principals are pretty good at following orders. But that’s a pretty big bus.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz permalink
    July 24, 2020 pm31 9:21 pm 9:21 pm

    Great questions by CSA leader. I would just point out that ventilation is a huge problem. I’ve read cases where clusters got infected when they sat near an asymptomatic person in a restaurant. Only those in the direct line of the a/c got the virus. Air conditioning is not fresh air- it’s recycled and many schools have window units not fancy hvac systems. I’m a chapter leader and this concerns me more than anything since Covid is mostly spread by aerosol droplets. September is usually hot as hell so how do we go back not using air conditioners and just relying on out windows that only open a few inches and don’t circulate the air.

    • July 25, 2020 am31 11:43 am 11:43 am

      Great points. Mulgrew was not wrong when he mentioned the possibility of using open windows instead of (or as well as?) A/C.

      But honestly – if I were being assigned to a space that iffy – if we were debating air-flow to minimize exposure – that’s probably a space we should not be using at all.

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