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How Will NYC Kids Do School While on Quarantine?

August 19, 2021 pm31 10:29 pm

NYC Public Schools are opening in person in three weeks. Like it or not. It’s been in the works since June. There’s no surge that is huge enough to derail these plans.

NYC Public Schools will not have a remote option in three weeks. Unless the mayor caves. But he has such a strong backbone… Well, what do you think? He might cave. He might not. As of today, no remote option. I’m guessing that there won’t be a remote option when school starts.

NYC Public Schools will have schools, classrooms, and individuals – mostly individuals – quarantined, within days of the opening. Like it or not. New cases are doubling every 10 – 15 days. The layers of protection in NYC Public Schools are uneven school to school, and weak in many. And this Delta variant is forcing anti-quarantine states to quarantine school children and teachers. Today’s headlines include 5% of Mississippi school children are already under quarantine, after just one week of school. (the video is interesting – over 3 minutes, but worth watching

There are questions about what will trigger a quarantine. Interesting, but outside my scope, today. Although there is policy to be analyzed. There is a large contingent that, as part of their “keep schools open no matter the risks” agenda, are arguing against quarantining in most circumstances where one would expect them to be required. There will be a big push from City Hall and keep-schools-open advocates such as the GOP and the NY Times to ignore or downplay cases in schools, and avoid quarantines and closures.

But closures and quarantines will happen. If they can’t avoid them in Mississippi, they won’t be able to avoid them in New York City. Four syllables, four syllables. Hmmph.

To put us on the same page, a quarantine is not what you do when you are sick. It’s what you do when you may have been exposed to someone who is sick. It allows you time to monitor to make sure you are not sick, or to develop symptoms and get help. Either way, when you quarantine you feel ok (except for the anxiety) but you stay out of public life, or in this case, public school.

So frame the question: a group of children who feel ok may have been exposed so we are keeping them out of school for a week or so while we determine that they are in fact fine, or we determine that some are sick, and get them treatment. But they feel ok now, but are not in school.

Options

Do nothing. This is de Blasio’s current plan.

  • Advantages: It is cheap. In fact, it costs zero. Nothing. It is easy. It requires no planning. de Blasio is fully capable of no planning.
  • Disadvantages:  Bored kids, climbing the walls. Being out of school, after 2020-21 may not feel like vacation.
  • Hidden motive: de Blasio is worried that having a quarantine plan is a slippery slope to having remote schooling. I know, dumb, but you know, de Blasio.
  • What it looks like: Nothing. Until a bunch of quarantines hit an anti-mask neighborhood, and we get insane protests, or until a bunch of quarantines hit gentrifier neighborhoods, and we get insane writing miscategorized as news and printed by the New York Times.

Set up a centrally run “Quarantine Academy

  • Advantages: Enough central staff have teaching licenses that this can be staffed pretty easily. Engages kids who are stuck on quarantine.
  • Disadvantages: In many cases the centrally run Quarantine Academy will not be on the same page (literally) as the student’s school. There will be a math lesson, but it may be a topic the child already engaged with this year, or one her class has not yet reached.
  • Hidden disincentive: although this seems relatively simple to set up, DoE Central’s capacity for planning is so limited that they are probably terrified by the prospect.
  • What’s it look like: “Teachers” can probably grab materials that the Virtual Content Specialists created last year. They can work from their existing DoE offices (maybe some shuffling to get quiet spaces). The DoE would need to supply zoom links to kids as they get assigned quarantine, and then the kids sign on.  Would there be attendance?  And for the kids? You are stuck home, but you get assigned grade-appropriate remote work, meet a bunch of new people virtually, and don’t get graded?  I can think of worse things to do for a week.

Tell Principals to Make Arrangements. Wink, wink. Or just drop hints.

I am terrified that this is what is in the works. Here’s my bad version: de Blasio says “We have no remote. Quarantine is short. Kids will be fine. They will be back soon. But schools can make their own arrangements.” Principals will take that to mean that they must make arrangements.  And in many schools principals will order teachers to keep two classrooms – one live, one virtual.  The UFT will say “principals should not order teachers to keep two classrooms” – but there will be no enforcement mechanism. And then, when kids are sick, we will be ordered to teach both remote and in-person, simultaneously. I hope I am wrong.

I taught remote all last year. I hated it. The kind of interaction I need as a math teacher wasn’t there. I could not read body language. I had trouble generating questions. I could not always see students’ faces (which is so much more important than asking “any questions?” which is a question that is designed to get silence as the answer – especially when I can read faces and know that there are or are not questions). I could not see student work in real time. I could not interrupt my lesson, walk over to the far board and take up an interesting tangential question that popped into some kid’s head. I could not give credit for board work. I barely could do group work. I hated it. It was not the teaching I love.

But this summer I taught five lessons in my school’s Discovery Program with a mixed remote/in-person class. If I were asked to do that again, I would turn in my retirement papers the same day. It was a far worse experience than remote teaching. Much of my work was doubled. But that’s not what I minded. Although it is true that I had to do about 50% more preparation. I hated things turned in remotely last year. Turns out I hate a mix of turning in the paper and turning in remotely even more. But in class – I move around – but the camera is fixed. If I spoke with remote kids, live kids didn’t hear me. When I was speaking with live kids, remote kids had problems. Parts of the board were invisible. Groups – we were in person so we could form socially distanced groups – operated totally differently. Conversations are best live, but I can run them remote – but I could not engage across modes. It stressed me out. It was frustrating. It was ineffective. I was one small part of our Discovery Program, which strives each year for 100% success. And the in-person part was close to 100. The remote was around 50.

Now, there are teachers who teach in the front of the room, and they talk, take a few questions, and write on the board. I have heard from some History teachers who are certain they could simulcast. But I cannot. I cannot imagine elementary. I couldn’t imagine most of my colleagues, or most high school teachers.

Could I post my homework assignments, and any readings? Sure. And if the demand stopped there, I think most of us would be ok. I just don’t think it would stop there, absent a strong UFT response.

  • Advantage (for de Blasio and Porter): They don’t actually tell principals to violate the contract or teachers’ rights or reasonable workload or decency. They just suggestively hint at it. And they don’t take on any responsibility at all. That’s the sort of responsibility he is willing to take.
  • Disadvantage (for teachers and students): the remote aspect would interfere with the live lesson. Or if the camera was on but the teacher did not modify the live lesson, the student would miss huge chunks – and missing mid-lesson is frustrating. And for teachers, the additional workload and stress would be significant.
  • What would this look like? For me? The beach. Because if it happens I’m retiring on the spot. For most of us? We are geared to bounce back from the last 17 months – instead getting this laid on us? pretty high burn out rates. Lousy atmosphere for students and teachers.
  • Wildcard: the UFT. The union has the right to stop this before it starts. And I hope that’s exactly what would happen. But the last year and a half do not inspire confidence.

In February, it is true we got this:

“It is not humanly possible to engage kids in person and online at the same time with the attention that is needed,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Teachers are very, very, very frustrated by this.”

But what will we get in September?

And look, it’s not just me. From the same article:

In Minnesota, an October union survey found that educators teaching concurrently were reporting soaring stress levels and considering quitting. The following month, Gov. Tim Walz (D) issued an executive order saying schools should not require teachers to provide instruction simultaneously to students learning in person and remotely.

but it’s not just teachers. This is from last fall, from Florida, of all the places:

Students attending class in person should have the benefits of interactive lessons, and students learning online need more attention from teachers to stay engaged. The solution is to separate these unique classrooms. Having separate teachers focused solely on online instruction or teaching in classrooms would allow them to figure out the most effective methods to teach their students during this time of uncertainty. 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill permalink
    August 20, 2021 am31 10:17 am 10:17 am

    You are missing a BIG point. The NYS back to school regulations state that students who are exposed to a confirmed covid case while social distancing and wearing a mask do not need to quarantine. However, if their teacher is unvaccinated, he or she will have to quarantine. Thus, you will have quite a few teachers quarantining at home while the rest of their classes will still be in the school building. Who is going to supervise that class while the teacher is in quarantine?

    • August 20, 2021 am31 10:22 am 10:22 am

      That is a huge point – thank you for underlining it.

      I should come back and look at the ramifications more closely.

      One important detail – they are guidelines, not regulations. NYC does not necessarily follow any of them.

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