Opinion: De Blasio needs a lesson from his teachers on school reopening

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza tour New Bridges Elementary School ahead of schools reopening
Mayor Bill de Blasio demonstrates a non-contact thermal thermometer with Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
Moon/Pool via REUTERS

We’re not too far away from the start of another school year for New York City’s students, but no one can honestly say they know what will happen this year or even what’s going on right now. 

I’m a childless 30-something and no education expert (disclosure: my father is a retired professor of education), but it seems clear to me that throughout the pandemic and especially this summer, the parents and the teachers have understood the situation better and reacted faster than the teachers union, which in turn has reacted faster than Bill de Blasio’s mayoral administration.

It’s sort of incredible to me that this city made it through six years of his lethargy before encountering a major crisis. Maybe that period when all the cops were turning their backs on him was also a crisis, though — if so, much smaller than what we are in now.

In private, Mayor de Blasio’s aides seem to dwell mostly in reality, but they must be totally unable to reach him in his filter bubble on his circuit of Gracie Mansion to motorcade to City Hall to Prospect Park. To his credit, Mayor de Blasio submits to interviews from major journalists every week. Frankly, that’s how we’ve been able to gauge how out of touch he is.

This column was supposed to be about education, not the mayor’s incompetence, but unfortunately he runs the schools here ever since Bloomberg decided at the dawn of the century that was a good idea. (In normal times, it probably is.)

After parents, teachers, and politicians called on Mayor de Blasio for months, he finally agreed that schools could plan classes outside, but gave the schools only a week to get such plans in order. Just like the whole school reopening process, results are haphazardly planned and grossly unequal.

New York exceptionalism, the cause of so many deaths this year, still reigns supreme, though it now comes with a hard lesson and better evidence. For many months now, we’ve had a markedly lower positive coronavirus rate than almost everywhere else in the country. So perhaps it is okay or even good that unlike most other large public school districts, New York City plans to continue to offer some in-classroom instruction to students who desire it. But not much in-class instruction. And it’s not at all clear staying open will end up being a good idea.

For Mayor de Blasio and his Department of Education’s strategy to work, they must be extremely vigilant and rapid in closing schools that turn into viral hotspots. Have they ever given us any indication that vigilance and rapidity are concepts they understand?

Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.