New York, NY—Councilman Ben Kallos and U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney held a joint Town Hall this evening with the NYC Department of Education so that parents and family members could ask questions about school safety before students physically return on September 21.
Maloney, a former NYC Public Schools teacher, discussed how she and her House of Representative colleagues worked to pass the Heroes Act in May, a second installment of coronavirus stimulus funding that the Senate has refused to vote on, that would direct more than $100 billion in K-12 education funding, and an additional $1 trillion in state and local funding to prevent deep cuts to public education programs.
Also, the infrastructure component of the Heroes Act would direct $130 billion for school construction and repair of, for example, ventilation systems.
“I would say that the absolute North Star is the health and safety of NYC’s school children, and we cannot let this pandemic exacerbate the inequities in our education system,” began Congresswoman Maloney.
“The challenge needs national leadership, but we can’t get it from this administration. Their response has been to reopen or ‘will cut your funding.’ We cannot reopen schools and hope for the best.”
Councilman Kallos then directed questions to DOE Deputy Chancellor Adrienne Austin, which included a broad range of questions from the nearly 150 participants who participated in the virtual event.
For starters, Austin was asked what standard did the DOE use in determining adequate ventilation in public school buildings. She noted that the DOE deployed an independent team of engineers from the New York City School Construction Authority to conduct a round of inspections.
According to Austin, they surveyed all together 150,392 spaces—of that 64,550 were classrooms, 23,000 were bathrooms and over 28,000 office and administrative spaces within schools.
“What they found was that 96 percent of our classrooms were deemed operational, meaning that they either had windows that were able to open, they had exhaust fans or supply fans that worked to exchange air within buildings and make sure that there were air circulators or unit ventilators,” said Austin.
Austin also said that the DOE is committed to the safe reopening of schools, that if it cannot ensure that there is proper ventilation or air circulation, it will not utilize that space.
Indeed, the DOE recently announced, as a result of the inspections conducted by the School Construction Authority engineers, that there are 10 buildings, 21 schools that have yet to reopen because repairs have to be made.
Austin was then asked whether there will be enough teachers to teach a combination of blended and remote learning.
She acknowledged that DOE is still working towards making sure that it secures enough certified teachers by September 21, especially in light of the 20 percent of teachers who requested accommodations to teach only remotely, which means there is still a shortfall of teachers required for in-person instruction.
“We are still working to make sure that we have enough staff. I can say that we are looking at our substitute teachers [and] many of our central employees are actually pedagogues—they are folks who maybe had part of their education career in schools as teachers,” Austin began.
“Those folks in central who have teaching licenses are being redeployed to schools to use their teaching credentials in alignment with whatever subject they are certified in, so all of that matching is still happening, and we plan to have that all sort of coordinated.”
Finally, concerned parents Andrew Meso and Debbie Mayer asked will there be additional resources for children who are having difficulty learning only remotely.
Austin responded that the DOE plans to deliver a much more robust version of remote learning based on the lessons it learned from the first round of remote learning in March through June.
“One of the things that I heard most frequently from families was there wasn’t enough, or in some cases none at all, live instruction from teachers in remote and that won’t be the case this year,” said Austin.
Students can expect more time with their teachers in a virtual, live environment.
“For K-5, families can expect that students will have between 65 minutes and 110 minutes with their teacher in September. By January and February, that bumps up to 120 minutes’ worth of instruction. And, the older the students are the more live instruction via remote, virtual live instruction they will have,” said Austin.