Brooklyn principals call for delayed school reopening due to COVID-19 concerns

in-person schooling
William Alexander Middle School in District 15.
Photo by Brianna Kudisch

Dozens of Brooklyn public school principals are demanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio delay reopening in-person schooling this fall, arguing that the city has not adequately prepared for a safe return amid COVID-19. 

“At this point it is becoming abundantly clear that our schools cannot open safely and effectively on Sep. 10,” read an Aug. 11 letter from District 15 principals to Hizzoner, school czar Richard Carranza, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

The educators, who hail from the very school district where de Blasio’s children attended school, called on the city to halt in-person attendance completely until Sept. 18 “so school staff can learn all new safety protocols” and reconstruct their classrooms to adapt to necessary social distancing. 

From Sept. 21 to Oct. 18, the administrators ask the city to give individual schools the option to phase some students back into the classrooms on a rotating schedule. 

The principals’ list of demands also includes a number of other requirements before the beginning of the school year — including reports on ventilation in each school building, assurances on shipments of protective equipment, and a finalized list of faculty deemed excused from in-person schooling.  

As of now, the educators argued, the city’s current in-person schooling plan is “piecemeal,” and lacks proper guidance on a host of issues essential to a proper return. 

“We are gravely concerned that the central response to opening has been piecemeal, and many of the most important questions about health and safety, space usage, academic policy, Special Education policy, and policy for multilingual learners still remain unanswered,” the principals wrote in a letter to Hizzoner, school czar Richard Carranza, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

Expressing a similar sentiment, 42 principals from neighboring School District 13 — which encompasses Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Bedford-Stuyvesant — also fired off a similar list of demands in a separate petition, saying they “do not have confidence” about the safety of a potential reopening. 

Educators from both school districts also called on the city to allow them to teach some classes outdoors — with District 15 noting that private schools with more resources were already gathering tents and negotiating outdoor space with elected officials. 

“There are ways to minimize risk of in-person learning,” the District 15 letter reads. “We can hold classes in parks, in closed streets, and in other open-air spaces.”

Those demands are shared by the union representing the city’s principals, which called on the mayor to delay in-person schooling in an Aug. 12 letter that accused the city of having an “alarming lack of direction.” 

“As each day passes without clear guidance and safety assurances, it becomes less likely that we will be ready to reopen in September,” wrote union head Mark Cannizzaro. “Without clear guidance and support on protocols and issues of safety, staffing, and programming, [our] tasks are unrealistic and insurmountable.”

During a press briefing on Aug. 13, de Blasio promised that every school would have a certified nurse in the building — and acknowledged that the city is working to improve their plans. 

“When you’re a month away from school opening, it’s understandable there’s going to be questions to still be resolved,” said de Blasio. “In the middle of a crisis that we’ve never experienced before…of course, there’s going to be challenges. But in the end, let’s go address those challenges.”

And even as objections arise from principals and labor unions, de Blasio stressed his assertion that in-person schooling is an integral part of the city’s push to recover from the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic. 

“We’ve got a huge majority of our parents begging us to give kids health and support again, we’ve got kids who desperately want to get back to school and start learning again,” he said. “But if people say, look, it’s not perfect therefore we don’t want to participate. That’s not New York. New Yorkers do not need perfection. New Yorkers are pragmatic, New Yorkers are tough.”