Adams: Will New York City Parents Strike on the First Day of School — and Beyond — If There’s No Option for Remote Learning?

Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Charlene Chirlane McCray welcoming pre-K students back to school last year at the Mosaic Pre-K Center. (NYC Mayor’s Office / Flickr)

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A version of this essay appeared on the New York School Talk blog

Despite last week’s City Council hearing on New York City’s return-to-school plans, during which Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger and a cohort of parents advocated for a remote education option, Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted that, save for listed medical exceptions, all students, vaccinated or not, would be required to return to school in person.

Soon after, I began hearing the idea of a parents’ strike, where families would keep their children home as a way to demonstrate just how many of them didn’t feel reassured by the safety protocols — and platitudes — they were being offered by the mayor and the city Department of Education.

I asked parents whether they would support such an action. Here’s what they had to say:

Yes, Strike:

CV: I will be part of the parent strike and if there is no remote option, will pull my child from public school.

KA: I can’t bear that we are sending our kids into chaos and closures, with a heightened risk of COVID, when we are so close to a vaccine for children. I was already planning to hold my son back for the first week, as the DOE isn’t requiring any baseline testing to weed out vacation COVID cases.

JK: I made up my mind to hold off until the last minute and not send my kids to school. After many Zoom meetings with the chancellor, districts, principals, I feel they all are singing the same tune — a tune that is not sitting well with me for many reasons. All I hear is, “vaccinations and multi-layered approach to safety” — but is that all that it is? When I asked questions in forums, they were ignored. 

MRC: The lack of remote option is particularly concerning in light of the inadequate testing program — no pre-Kers, no kindergartners, no vaccinated individuals, only 10% of those who opt in (which is not required to attend school) and only every other week. The singleminded drive to get our kids in school, in person, at any cost is going to drive parents to leave NYC altogether.

SMC: We’ve already informed our daughter’s elementary school that she won’t be attending in person until she’s fully vaccinated. We were told that her absence would likely trigger an investigation, but we’re prepared to accept that.

EK: I’d support a strike over masks on 5-year-olds — the rest of the world does not mask small kids, the outcome is identical, why is this country doing this?

KP: Children’s lives should be more than just $$$ to schools, and families should have a say in their education.

AE: We are in a global pandemic about to hit the peak of a worse variant than the original strain and yet we have increased classroom density and reduced testing. Even if only 2% of students are positive, that’s still 22,000 students taking their masks off to eat lunch with their peers with a prevalent variant that spreads in less time than it takes to read a board book, let alone a 30-minute lunch period. As if that weren’t enough, teachers and students who get their first dose in late September will not be fully vaccinated until NOVEMBER, though they will continue to be at school in the meantime. I will not send my daughter back in the school building. 

No, We Want In-Person Only:

CJC: Definitely will not support a parent strike or a remote option. We should not be trying to dilute an in-person school’s already scant resources to force a remote option in every school!

CC: I don’t want DOE to expend time and resources on a fully remote track when the pedagogical efficacy is questionable at best and the need unclear for any child who is vaccine-eligible.

MC: Parents can’t have it both ways, which is to use the DOEs devices and funding to get what they want. The DOE can’t be made to bend to the will of every parent who has a tantrum because they didn’t get the cookie they wanted. Enough coddling of parents who aren’t getting their way. I don’t want my children’s education impacted because some parents are kvetching.

LR: We fought for so long last year to get the kids back into school. A parent strike undermines our position on getting kids back into the classroom.

JJ: Masks, social distancing and the vaccine are all working. As someone who has worked in person for most of the pandemic, I have seen firsthand that it works in much more crowded situations than public schools. 

TL: All the relevant experts have concluded, taking into account the risks versus benefits, that in-person schooling is critical. Allowing a remote option that is open to anyone would send the message that in-person schools are dangerous, which does not reflect the science nor the data. We must base public policy decisions on rational decision-making that takes real facts and evidence into account, not hysteria or irrational fears.

SH: Before they decide to go on strike, I would first like to see the vaccination card of these concerned parents. If they are ready to keep their children hostages at home, they should first show proof of vaccination — and, soon, booster shot — themselves. 

MV: What I WOULD support is a parent strike to require that all students eligible for a vaccine get vaccinated, just as we require students to get other vaccinations in order to come to school (with an exception for those who can’t get it for health reasons).

CD: Parents protesting for a remote option? Do they have any idea what this actually encompasses? The amount of teachers needed for this option to be available just isn’t realistic. The amount of money needed to pay those salaries just isn’t feasible. Do parents really want to outsource those positions to lower-qualified candidates because there is and will be a teacher shortage? Do parents really want the quality of education to depreciate just because they are afraid to send their child in? If teachers have to get themselves vaccinated against their will, then maybe parents have to send their unvaccinated kids into school to learn in person without a remote option against THEIR will. And then maybe they can understand what it’s like to get THEIR freedom taken away. Maybe they can understand what it’s like to be put into a dangerous situation against THEIR will. 

On that note, a teacher wrote: What will happen with teachers who would refuse the vaccine? Will they be fired, sent on a leave or be required to be tested? The city has no clear plans at this time how to handle COVID at schools, and I highly doubt that the mayor’s deadline for the first dose of vaccine will ever come to fruition.

As of this writing, the city teachers union is pushing back against the termination of unvaccinated teachers.

The first day of school is this Monday, Sept. 13.

How many students will show up? How many teachers will be vaccinated?

What will happen in schools where there are more teachers than students, due to a strike?

What will happen in schools where there are more students than teachers because some have gone on strike themselves? Will substitutes be called in? Who will they be? Will they be certified in the subject/age group they’re assigned to? Will these be teachers who have been fired from other schools? Will principals have any say in who is assigned to their schools? Will teachers be able to turn down substitute assignments? Will they be able to move from school to school or forced to pod?

And what will happen down the road to per-pupil funding if students continue to be no-shows, and teachers continue to refuse to get a vaccine — but the city can’t fire them?

Alina Adams is a New York Times best-selling romance and mystery writer, the author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten and Getting Into NYC High School, a blogger at New York School Talk and mother of three. She believes you can’t have true school choice until all parents know all their school choices — and how to get them. Visit her website, www.NYCSchoolSecrets.com.

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