Gov. Cuomo, Too Much is at Risk if We Reopen Schools


Dear Gov. Cuomo,

In your news conference today, you spent time empowering the voices of parents, and to some extent, teachers, with regard to the reopening of schools in our state. Incidentally, I am both a parent of students in Nassau County and a teacher in Queens. So is my wife. I bring a doubly anxious and concerned perspective to the idea of reopening.

While I certainly appreciate the logic behind opening schools as a way to get people back to work and the economy on the right track, I can’t possibly see past the myriad issues that are confronting my family and the communities we live and work in if in-person instruction is to resume.

You deserve credit for the way your leadership helped New Yorkers suppress the horrible crisis we faced this spring. Your messaging has been constant and consistent to the point it is ingrained in the minds of many New Yorkers. Thankfully, we are doing well. However, I do believe that if we reopen schools, we do so at the peril of ratcheting up the crisis once more, and there are many reasons why. You yourself have warned that New York will potentially suffer the effects of the many places around the country that are seeing a surge in cases.

I can’t wrap my head around the idea that, in New York City, as dense and populous as it is, indoor restaurants and bars can’t open, but schools can. A theoretical argument might posit that social distancing will be required, masks will be worn, plexiglass will be installed, filtration will be improved, etc. As it turns out, I am on the reopening committee for my school, and based on the information coming from the New York City Department of Education – or lack thereof – the prospect of reopening doesn’t only sound implausible, it sounds terrifying. The state and city budgets are decimated, and who knows when the gridlock in Washington might be broken to deliver us the funds we need?

My wife teaches kindergarten. I teach third grade self-contained special education. In neither of our classrooms is it reasonable to expect constant compliance from these young children. It isn’t natural, nor is it productive for their education.

You are a father, just like me. We have raised our children. As I reflect back on their younger years, I ask myself: When my children were in kindergarten, could they have reasonably been expected to wear a mask for 6 hours and 50 minutes? Could they have reasonably been expected to keep a safe distance from their friends at all times? Could they reasonably have been expected to make it through a day without a hug from their teacher? While crying? While having a nose bleed? While being scared of something? The list goes on and on. It just can’t be done.

As a parent, I can guarantee that task would have been impossible for my children, and even if it wasn’t, there would definitely have been children in their classes and schools for whom it was. My point is: it all sounds nice on paper, but in practice? I have no faith in it working. Many of my colleagues and friends share the same concerns and fears.

As a teacher, how can I perform my job at my best if I don’t feel I am safe, or that my students are safe, or that my family is safe? Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate. And if I’m back in a school building, with my wife also in a building, with our children in their separate schools, we are just running up our chances to get sick or worse. The domino effect that will be caused by any one person involved with a school (indirectly as a parent or directly as a student or teacher) will be catastrophic to the point that conceivably, schools will need to close, reopen, and close again the next day because of new cases. What is the point? 

What is more important than safety? Without your health, you have nothing. I have never dreaded the start of the school year more.

I allow that remote learning was not a great success when we transitioned to it overnight in March. That’s not the fault of the teachers, parents, or students who learned on the fly how to do things in a completely different way. The fact is, we were all caught unprepared because our leadership at every level was unprepared.

Now, months later, principals and teachers are being asked – no, forced – to contrive measures with minimal logical guidance in order to keep their school communities safe, or should I say, as safe as possible. I venture to guess that very few of these people have healthcare backgrounds, and so the mission is doomed to fail from the start. It’s not for lack of caring or effort. It’s just too awesome a task to tackle. 

Why not devote this time and whatever money will be spent toward safety measures to something that can demonstrably improve our current situation: professional development for remote pedagogy? How about training for parents? 

The piecemeal, patchwork way we got through the spring is not sustainable, and the likely reality is that once we are back in person, we’re going to wind up being remote anyway. In Corona, Queens, where my wife and I work, this is all but guaranteed. Neighboring Elmhurst was the epicenter of the entire country. Is there any reason to think it won’t be hit terribly again?

Our role is to educate, to inspire, and to meet our students’ various needs. I’m telling you now, I can’t do that without feeling confident in my safety or that of my family. Reopening schools in-person is a recipe for disaster and heartbreak. I recently told my 14-year old daughter, who was challenging our strictness about her social life, that my greatest worry is that she, or one of us, will be involved in a new outbreak without being aware. In other words, we go about our lives and suddenly, we’re part of a new health crisis. Is that necessary?

Governor, you have showed the entire country a model for stemming the awful tide of this pandemic for our wonderful state. You’re owed a great debt of gratitude. However, you know we’re not out of the woods yet. So let me ask you, then: rather than ease off the accelerator, why not continue to go full throttle toward stemming the tide? If we keep our foot on the throat of this crisis, don’t we keep all New Yorkers – including parents, teachers, and students – safer? You are fond of the mountain metaphor, and now, thankfully, we are on the other side of the first mountain. But it’s only the first. Another seemingly inevitable mountain looms ahead. 

There is much work to still be done to protect New Yorkers’ lives. An obvious way to do that is to allow districts to go fully remote to start the year. Do as you have always done as we proceed: evaluate, reevaluate, and adjust the sails. The potential human toll is too great to do anything else.

I’m a dad. I’m a teacher. I hold both roles deeply in my heart. I chose both as paths for me many years ago. I have never looked back. I have loved my children and my students. 

My grandmother lived to be 91 and would always say, “If you’re healthy, you’re happy.” Governor, I am very worried that there’s a lot of unhappiness on the horizon. Please do your part to limit that as much as possible.

One response to “Gov. Cuomo, Too Much is at Risk if We Reopen Schools

  1. Governor Cuomo, your leadership
    Has been extraordinary; would that we had a similar model coming out of Washington . Please do not drop the baton now, exposing our most vulnerable population to the scourge of this virus. Too much is yet at risk, the strides we’ve made too tentative. Given the very nature of children, we cannot rely on measures that cannot possibly protect them, no matter how effective they may sound on paper.

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