Gov. Cuomo, Don’t Gamble with Lives to Open Schools


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Dear Gov. Cuomo,

I write to you today as a career educator entering my 13th year as an elementary school teacher in Corona, Queens. You’ll recall Corona as the literal epicenter of New York’s Covid-19 outbreak. I work there. My students and their families live there. Many of them contracted Covid, and in our school, many students are now mourning the deaths of their grandparents and parents.

I also write to you as a father. I’ve got three children who mean the world to me. One starts high school this year, another sets off for middle school, and the other, who is 2, happily oblivious to any of the world’s sadness (or even my and his mommy’s worries) and who has attended daycare since 6-months old. He randomly announced yesterday, “I miss school.”

During this pandemic, you have shown bold and courageous leadership for our state, garnering you acclaim and national recognition as you deftly worked around and against the absence of leadership from the White House. While the President railed against masks as a sign of weakness, you urged New Yorkers to wear them as a sign of respect. While the President frighteningly and stupefyingly painted a rosy picture of a once-in-a-generation health crisis, you spoke honestly, truthfully, and bluntly about the public responsibility to help flatten the curve. Although most people probably would never choose to live life under lockdown, cherished community institutions shuttered and family norms shattered, the fact is it worked.

You also acknowledge that New York will see a rise in cases as cases rise around the country. It is generally accepted that come fall, the pandemic will reach its second wave, which, they say, will be worse than the first.

Governor, your priority for our state through this pandemic has been public health. I understand that the economy needs to creak back to life, truly I do. But if that has to come at the potential expense of student and teacher lives, is it worth it?

Trump has flouted every recommendation from people who know more than any of us. His level of hubris and self-assuredness in the face of unrelenting fact, numbers, and basically, destruction, have led this country down a dark road into a cavernous abyss where we laypeople are sacrificed for the cause of his bungling bid to be reelected. His calls for reopening states to drive the economic engine have been more than irresponsible. They’ve been reckless, selfish, and without question, deadly.

At every opportunity you have distinguished yourself as the AntiTrump, showing greater understanding of the long game of the pandemic. I am calling on you to continue to do so. When Trump and DeVos call for opening schools, I urge you to stand up for our students and teachers and not lead them over a cliff the way Trump has already done to so many Americans who have become victims of his lack of caring or understanding.

How can schools open without proper funding, enough space, a vaccine? Is it your position that to move the economy along, children must die? Teachers must figure out ways to deal with immensely challenging scenarios and educate children while anxiously worrying about their own health and that of their families? Can you imagine a school functioning to it’s fullest educational capacity when everyone is trying to understand how to keep pre-k students from being near each other, or keep mischief makers from messing around with their masks, or walk down the halls with 6 feet around every student in each direction? This is not only senseless, it’s impossible.

Whatever money there is this year that’s meant to go toward sanitization, cleanliness, barriers, PPE, and whatever else is needed to bring students back to school, why not take that money instead and invest it into professional development to help teachers improve their remote pedagogy? Why not use it to bring awareness and understanding to parents who will be home with their children while they learn remotely? Why not use it to fund childcare services for parents who can’t stay home for remote learning?

We need to be thinking outside the box. It’s not enough to say, “Kids need to be back in school.” They do, of course. But if it means they’re going to die, or their teachers will, well, I don’t see how that’s worth it.

The threshold you’ve prescribed – that a region must be under 5% infected over 14 days – assumes you are okay with approximately 100 students and staff in my building being sick at one time, and potentially having their lives at risk. And on top of that, it’s okay by you that, as we extrapolate the numbers, the likelihood of sustained infection and outbreak in the building just goes higher and higher. We don’t yet know how kids spread the disease because we haven’t seen enough kids together during this pandemic. Why assume the best when that almost certainly means more illnesses and deaths?

You are keen to point out repeatedly, and justifiably so, that being “New York State tough” allowed NY to be a model for the country, a beacon of what you should do to handle this crisis. With your own admission that cases will rise due to surges around the country, as well as a recent Siena/NY Times poll indicating 82% of New Yorkers expect things to be worse in the fall, I just don’t understand your gamble.

Trump gambles with lives. Why are you?

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