Eyes on schools as positive rates rise


Eyes on schools as positive rates rise

When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced over the summer the city would close down its schools if the seven-day rolling average of positive coronavirus tests reached 3 percent, such a number seemed far away — especially with said rates at record lows. At the time.

But as each month presents new and enduring challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, the 3 percent number is not as unthinkable as it once might’ve been.

The city’s seven-day positive test rate reached 1.92 percent Oct. 29 — something de Blasio called “a big concern.”

Dr. Jay Varma, the mayor’s senior pandemic advisor, noted while coronavirus clusters in could be fueling the upward tick, he also observed a slow and steady rise of cases across the boroughs — even outside those outer borough clusters. 

That could spell trouble for the city’s public schools.

For the last few weeks, the seven-day rolling average hovered between 1.5 and 1.75 percent, de Blasio said. However, toying with 2 percent is worrying him, not to mention parents. 

In-person school attendance lower

Mayor Bill de Blasio might be pushing for a hybrid learning model this academic year, but families willing to participate slowly declined in the months leading up to the first day of school.

And following the first day as well.

While overall attendance city school’s was just over 85 percent, the education department revealed just 280,000 of its 1.1 million students were actually showing up on campus.

de Blasio originally claimed 75 percent of parents wanted their children back in school. That has since dropped to 46 percent — and now, with the recent data, actually closer to 25 percent. 

While it’s certainly not the number he anticipated, de Blasio was, however, encouraged by the high attendance rates overall.

“That 280,000, of course, that’s a huge number unto itself, and many, many more kids are attending in-person than in many parts of the country,” the mayor said, “but a lot more kids could be attending in person. Given the pandemic and the extraordinary amount of upheaval, that’s not a bad number. But we want that number to go up.”

de Blasio reminded parents they could opt into hybrid learning before Nov. 15. 

Fieldston School fights bigotry

Many have found new ways to confront power and privilege in their own lives over the past few months. And that theme recently made its way to the classroom for one local high school.

Each year, the Ethical Culture Fieldston School hosts Fieldston Awareness Day, an annual event for upper school students, parents and faculty to learn about real-life issues outside the classroom through discussions, workshops and visiting speakers. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event was held remotely.

The keynote speaker was Eric Ward, the executive director of Western States Center, a racial, economic and gender justice organization based in Portland, Oregon — recently a national hotbed for Black Lives Matter protests.

Ward encouraged students to lean into their power and privileges in order to create change for marginalized groups.

“There are more of us who believe in the world we are trying to create than we are taught to believe,” Ward said. “We have the creativity, the imagination, and the energy to shape society in a way that fulfills the needs of everyone.”

After Ward’s talk, Fieldston students broke out into groups to discuss what they just heard, reflecting on how those themes might apply in their own lives.

The fight for equality may be difficult. But Ward believes it’s worth it. Young people, he said, must shift their focus to systemic issues rather than individual ones.

“Keep doing the work of challenging racism,” Ward said. “But stop spending your time on who is a racist, and start asking the question of why something is racist. Racism is a system — it’s not about individuals. We have to focus on systemic change.”

Bill de Blasio, Dr. Jay Varma, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Fieldston Awareness Day, Eric Ward, Western States Center