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Top 13 NYC’s School Reopening “Plan” Problems

August 3, 2020 pm31 3:45 pm

These are my first notes on the New York City Department of Education’s September 2020 School Reopening Plan. It has glaring problems.

I am referring to the 32 page plan that the DoE submitted to NY State Friday evening. I am referring to the Entry/Exit policy, and the Health. And I’m referring to the School Building Reopening preliminary plans, guiding questions, and FAQs from July.

In Mulgrew’s email to members, he identified turnaround-time for tests and contact tracing, lack of randomized testing, and lack of a nurse in each school as big problems. They are indeed big problems. He added:

“Even if there are stronger safety standards in place, we still have grave concerns about the city’s ability to effectively enforce them in every school to protect students and staff.”

Here are some serious problems with what the DoE has proposed.

Where’s the plans?

These are not plans. They are outlines of ideas. Jim Malatras, Empire State College President, said so (he’s right) and compared the 32 pages unfavorably to far more detailed, longer plans for far smaller districts. Almost nothing has been fleshed out.

1800 plans?

There are over 1800 public schools in New York City. That’s over 1800 principals. That’s a lot of bell schedules. A lot of entry procedures. A lot of isolation rooms. A lot of procedures for moving in the buildings.

There need to be 1800 plans. In detail. Take just the morning entry portion. It is not good enough to write “staff will ensure that students wear masks and maintain social distancing during entry” – there has to be a plan for how that will be done. A school of two thousand that brings in 650 students each day. Hmm. Stagger entry (how? how long will each cycle take?) Say three entry times, 8, 8:30, 9. 200 – 250 kids each cycle. Six foot distanced. 400-500 yards. Is there enough sidewalk space? Driveways? Intersections? How many staff members will be needed to supervise each line? Is half an hour per cycle really enough? Hmm. And that’s just entry…

And then we have to believe we have 1800+ principals who will faithfully execute these plans. It is true, I have met some talented, conscientious NYCDOE principals. But I have met others, as well.

If you have any idea how many principals violate good and fair programming guidelines when they are not being watched, you would have some idea why I think this whole idea is such a very, very bad idea for students and staff.


The DoE says that they are using 3% positive citywide as their threshold for reopening. But some of us work or live in neighborhoods that have much higher rates, and are concerned. It should be by zip code or neighborhood

Testing/Closing procedures

As Mulgrew spelled out (and Cuomo as well) the City does not have a plan for contact tracing, and testing turnaround time is too long. Way too long. Teachers are concerned with quarantining procedures, and with closures. The city claims that it can close classrooms, not schools. We are skeptical. The city wants to keep classrooms open when a case is reported, but not yet confirmed.

Look at that for a moment. Say there are ten unconfirmed reports, and nine of them are false. This means that Bill de Blasio has continued hybrid learning for about 100 kids, while getting 10 of them sick, with a chance to infect family members. Not right.

On quarantining, there’s a question that should be easy to resolve, but it hasn’t been yet. A teacher exhibits symptoms. Stays home, gets tested. Tests negative. Comes back. Do those days come out of their sick bank?

On closures, the City failed to follow its own procedures in March. They were willing to put staff and students in harm’s way. The closure procedures in the plan have way too much wiggle room to be executed by those people. Read this:

If two or more confirmed cases present within seven days of each other, NYC Test + Trace Corps and DOHMH begins investigation immediately and makes every attempt to conclude the investigation within 24 hours.

If the final plan says “makes every attempt” I will urge my union to keep 100% of teachers out. That is completely unacceptable. It asks students and staff to trust the good will and competence of a department that has given us reason to question both.


I think the DoE has agreed to upgrade some ventilation systems – but I know of nowhere where the work is going on today. I am in a leased building, and of course we have heard nothing from the DoE. I got a 2-day old message today from MS324 in Washington Heights, terrified about bad ventilation. I hear that the DoE is inspecting interior, windowless rooms, trying to get them “okayed.” I hear that they are recommending open windows in most schools, no matter the weather, which seems nuts – and the letter I published yesterday cites a University of Minnesota source saying this is a bad idea.

The feeling I get is that the DoE cares about approved ventilation, not adequate ventilation. Roll that around – they care about approvals, not whether the air is healthy. And for a counterpoint, try this Atlantic article. We believe airborne transmission is the greatest threat, but the DoE is acting as if getting approval for their ventilation plans is an inconvenience.

Self checks

This is huge. The DoE wants staff and students to check their temperature each day before they come to school. However, on any given day, pre-pandemic, some parents would lower their child’s fever and drop them off at school. I understand the motivation. We all do. How can we ask children and families to temperature screen at home when everybody’s safety is at risk? And don’t forget, teenagers forget…


We should have a nurse in every school. The DoE plan says that’s unnecessary. Honestly, we should have a nurse in every school even without Covid. But that has not been a DoE priority, and the pandemic has apparently not changed their minds.

Isolation Rooms

Without nurses in every building, they are assigning teachers? This is not okay. We are not health professionals. I am very worried for colleagues who are afraid to say “no” or even “I am very uncomfortable with this.”

And in the event that a cluster occurs, and this is a “1, 2, many” situation what happens? These isolation rooms, we are planning space for just 2 people in most schools.

And on the planning side, the space for the isolation room… that reduces, properly, available space in the building, and must be taken into account.


Lunch in the classroom? Masks off? Indoor dining is not ok in NYC. And we share space with other diners for a limited time. Spending a full day in a classroom with the same group of people, including a maskless lunch, seems like a really good way to guarantee that if a positive gets into the room (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) that it will be spread to the entire room.

High Schools

Beginning to end, these plans have been written (poorly, incompletely) for elementary schools, and for middle schools where kids stay with their class all day. The scheduling options – none of them fit high schools. The safety planning – all are written (very badly and incompletely) for elementary school. Our kids change classes, and mix. There goes closing a classroom instead of a school, right out the (open for ventilation) window. Or, maybe we could keep a group of 10 kids bubbled in a single room, and rotate teachers. So in case of a case, you could shut that classroom and send 8 teachers home for two weeks? Schools can’t function with that sort of unpredictable high level of teacher absence.


There’s barely a word about our special education schools – but detailed plans are critical. Some children will require closer contact than in other schools – making the need for proper protective equipment even more critical. And if the need is so high that teachers need to be suited up like emergency room workers…


Where the hell are they on busing? What accommodations? What spacing? Why haven’t they said? (Unaddressed)

Faculty and students who commute on public transportation – what steps are being taken to keep them safe during their commutes? (Unaddressed)

And a combined quarantine/transportation question:  since the DoE cannot enforce social distancing at a child’s home, each child is potentially in contact with friends and family members who do not attend the same school. While there is still community spread, our transport system and schools provide a large network of contacts to further that spread. There is nothing here for the DoE to address. It’s just a general statement about what a horrid idea this is.

Blended learning

This is perhaps the biggest problem of all. Not because blended learning is intrinsically horrible, but because the DoE’s approach has made it so.

It was not designed for high schools or middle schools where kids change classes. This is not me moaning because I might have to schedule it (I’m not sure I would), this is the reality of scores of high schools moaning that they can’t see how it could be made to work.

The DoE decided to promise that students would receive instruction on days they were not in class, creating an instant teacher shortage (worse than the one we already have, as the DoE systematically overcrowds schools and classrooms).

The DoE decided to maximize the number of students who would fit in a building. This is their habit. High school class size limit is 34 – do they seek an average of 28, allowing the occasional class to go to the limit? No, they plan for schools to put every class at the limit.

The DoE did not create any model programs and safety plans for other schools to copy. Each principal is on their own (or with their planning team, on their own).

But the DoE, ducking responsibility by saying principals know their own schools best, rejected plans from principals who actually know their schools better than the DoE does.

No matter how well-intentioned the initial idea to created blended learning was, it is now clear that the DoE’s “blended plans” are an impediment to reopening. They will create chaos. They will compromise safety. They should be dropped.




3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike permalink
    August 3, 2020 pm31 6:03 pm 6:03 pm

    Great job outlining just how poorly the doe has done in providing zero concrete plans to calm nerves.

    In my mind, I now have more concerns and questions.

    Outlines and vague terms won’t work in a pandemic.

    • August 4, 2020 am31 8:21 am 8:21 am

      There’s plenty more to talk about, but any list will contain irresolvable issues.

      They are willful enough to force us in. But they are capable of creating a plan that works. It is dangerous.


  1. “Mr. Mulgrew, please walk this back” – letter from a teacher | JD2718

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