Slow Down To Save Lives: Sign On Letter

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August 27, 2020

To Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, UFT President Mulgrew and Chancellor Carranza:

We are a coalition of students, parents, teachers, school leaders, advocates and elected officials who have come together to demand you delay reopening school buildings, fully fund our schools and invest in a safer, more equitable plan for NYC students, that includes equitable remote learning, an expansion of REC centers and low-risk alternatives like outdoor learning.

Leadership means working tirelessly to empower and listen to the needs, ideas, and concerns of our school communities. Yet, community stakeholders like parents, students, teachers and other school staff have been completely shut out of the reopening planning process both on the state and city level, leading to a plan that will put people in danger. Our countless questions and concerns have been dismissed or ignored. Meanwhile lawmakers, advocates, parents and educators like us have proposed thoughtful, more equitable visions for this school year only to have their proposals rejected or overlooked. We believe that addressing the systemic inequities that COVID-19 has made increasingly visible, and intensified, will demand a long term commitment to healing and community-driven decision making to build foundational trust.

In that spirit and in light of our many health, logistical, equity, financial, and capacity concerns, we are making the following demands:

  • Tax New York State’s ultra-wealthy
  • Delay reopening school buildings
  • Plan for equitable remote and outdoor learning
  • Expand access to regional enrichment centers (RECs)
  • Include Impacted Communities in Reopening Planning

To learn more about our proposals, please read below:

Tax New York’s ultra-wealthy so our schools and our students and their families can survive

In this moment of crisis, the city and state should be increasing funding to our schools and going above and beyond to empower and ensure the safety of New York’s students, parents and educators. Instead, our communities are facing rolling and debilitating budget cuts while New York’s billionaires get richer. It is untenable to demand that schools reopen during a pandemic—a time of prolonged, collective trauma and displacement for our students—while we face drastic, unnecessary austerity that will lead to thousands of layoffs and cripple schools for a generation. We must tax the ultra-rich in New York state, especially the 120 billionaires who call our state home, to fully fund our schools in order to reopen them safely at any point.

  • New York State must immediately pass bills that would tax the rich including, but not limited to:
    • NY State Senate Bill S7378, which would fund schools through restructuring tax law for millionaires in the state
    • A “pied-a-terre” tax which would levy a tax on properties where the wealthiest property owners do not currently live (second/third apartments/condos/etc.)
    • A dedicated 2% Millionaires tax on New Yorkers making over 100 million dollars
    • A Stock Transfer tax which would raise billions of dollars in revenue by taxing sales of Wall St. stock to prevent massive cuts to school funding. 
Delay Reopening School buildings

New York City has made significant progress in reducing the COVID-19 infection rates throughout our city. The DOE’s current approach to school opening threatens to set back this important progress. COVID is airborne indoors—especially in poorly ventilated spaces like public school classrooms, and children can transmit the virus as much as adults. With three weeks left until school begins, we have seen zero evidence that concerns around ventilation, meals indoors, PPE supplies or lack of testing and tracing capacity will be adequately addressed by the DOE. As heartbreaking as it is for us to acknowledge given the impacts on our students and their families, we are not ready to fully open school buildings in September.

  • Use the time we gain by delaying reopening school buildings to develop a safe, equitable and phased reopening plan in a truly collaborative and inclusive process that includes the voices of those most directly impacted by COVID-19, and that prioritizes English Language Learners, Students in Temporary Housing, and Students with Disabilities, while keeping to the long-term goals of increasing racial and socio-economic diversity across and within NYC schools.
  • Set localized infection rate thresholds: COVID has disproportionately decimated communities of color and continues to hit Black and Latinx neighborhoods in our city the hardest. There are still neighborhoods in New York City with infection rates above the 3% rate set by the city and even above the 5% threshold for reopening set by the state. Any threshold for the reopening of school buildings that depends on a city-wide average will lead to disproportionate harm to marginalized communities by default. We demand that you base reopening infection rate at the Community District (CD) level rather than the Citywide average (do not reopen if any CD has an infection rate higher than 3%).
Plan for Equitable Remote and Outdoor Learning

We fully understand the challenges that have arisen with remote learning, particularly for our most marginalized communities. Blue-collar families, poor families, and immigrant families should not need to struggle with the tensions of being labeled essential workers while finding childcare and an education for their children. The concerns many of us outlined in an April 7, 2020 letter related to equity and remote learning have come to fruition. We now know that the most marginalized communities in our city have been hit hardest by COVID-19 with the failures of remote learning tracking along similar patterns. We also know that COVID risk is significantly lower for children and adults outdoors. Districts and schools across the country, including private schools in New York City—are turning to outdoor spaces for instruction, meals and socializing opportunities for students. New York City can and should do the same while investing in high quality remote learning.

  • Dedicate the bulk of school, district and city planning efforts to improving the quality of remote learning with particular focus on trauma informed practices and holistic support for all school community members
  • Ensure adequate language access for caregivers so that they can better assist their children
  • Ensure that teachers have time in the day for 1-1 and small group instruction/support with students
  • Support schools in using outdoor spaces for safe, in-person interaction as part of remote learning as well as REC center practices and to support students’ mental health.
  • Specifically, allow schools to use public space by closing down streets, and provide funding and supplies to all schools to go outside safely.
  • Prioritize in person instruction outdoors and through REC centers for students with disabilities, ELLs, homeless students and young students
  • Facilitate intergovernmental collaboration between DOE, DCP, NYC Design, DOT, local architects, and planners to develop design guidelines for safe, sustainable, and easy-to-deploy outdoor classrooms, similar to guidelines for business through Open Restaurants and Open Streets. We must design innovative approaches to deploy outdoor classrooms.
Expand Access to Regional Enrichment Centers

The Mayor claims we need to reopen school buildings to provide childcare to working parents, but his plan offers many families just one to two days a week of childcare that will disappear as schools and classrooms are shut down because of COVID spread. We need a safer, more reliable, daily source of childcare for families who desperately need it. We need systemic solutions to systemic problems, not individual or school-by-school elements.

  • Prioritize safe in person instruction and reliable childcare for families that need it most through the expansion of REC centers and targeted outdoor learning for the most vulnerable among our students– including students with disabilities, English language learners, homeless students and our youngest learners
  • Assure regional education centers can continue for and expand to anyone deemed an essential worker in the city as per the definition provided by the New York State Guidance Executive Order with consideration for district infection rates
  • Continue in-person provision of services to students in temporary housing, English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities either in REC centers or outdoors.
Include Impacted Communities in Reopening Planning

Most of the primary decision-makers in this process – Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, Chief Strategy Officer Edie Sharp, and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor Alison Hirsh are white – and largely removed from the experiences of parents of color and/or working class and poor parents. They have been notably inaccessible to the public throughout the process and have done little to solicit meaningful feedback from stakeholders. The Mayoral taskforce on reopening, which many of this letter’s signatories were a part of, did not offer and/or were not offered real opportunities for input on this approach to reopening. Governor Cuomo’s taskforce failed to include representation from New York City students, teachers, school leaders or parents. The DOE’s weekly “Reopening Calls” with advocates have become briefings instead of authentic opportunities for feedback and partnership.

  • Launch a collaborative, representative planning process for the city, districts, and schools for eventual building reopening
  • Use the time you gain by delaying building reopening to actively solicit feedback, ideas and questions from impacted communities and school stakeholders through surveys, forums and neighborhood outreach
  • Include community leaders, advocates and actual public school teachers, parents and students in any task forces or planning meetings

It’s time to pause reopening, reevaluate, listen to communities, tax billionaires to fund our schools, and come up with safer, more equitable alternatives for families including robust remote learning, outdoor learning and expanding REC centers and other childcare offerings.

Signed: (will update)

The Alliance For Quality Education, MORE-UFT, PRESS NYC, Teens Take Charge, Integrate NYC, Young People of Color Inc., Parents Supporting Parents NY, Sunrise Movement NYC, Indivisible Nation BK, Community Education Council 14, Community Education Council 4, State Senator Robert Jackson, State Senator Brad HoylmanJabari Brisport, Emily Gallagher, Tiffany Caban, Jessica-Gonzalez-Rojas, Zohran Kwame Mamdani

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