I’m finding it difficult to believe that the “health and safety of all students, staff, and families continues to be the DOE’s first priority.”
Throughout the week of March 9th, I had at least a quarter of my class absent every day due to the fear of Corona Virus. On Thursday, I received a text from a parent asking if schools were going to close. I informed the worried mother that as of that moment, it wasn’t. She mustered up the courage to ask for permission to keep her child home until the impending crisis was over. I let her know that she had every right to do whatever she felt was necessary to keep her family safe.
On Friday, over 40% of our students were absent. Yet there was still no word whether schools would be closed. My families were afraid and I could not blame them. Many of our students were being cared for by their elderly grandparents, the group that would be most severely impacted if they were infected with Covid 19.
Throughout the weekend, I followed the hour by hour updates from the mayor and chancellor’s office about potential school closures. There were tweets from students who did not want to go to school, angry critics of the administration, and concerned parents and teachers who wanted schools to close. But the mayor was adamant about keeping schools open. At first it was about keeping schools open for children who needed hot meals from their schools. Then it became about keeping teenagers off the street. And then it became about needing children of first responders to be in school otherwise there would be no childcare system for the people in the frontlines fighting this devastating virus.
I would add my own tweet to the mix, speaking for the families of my students because their voices were not being heard. Our community isn’t on Twitter like others. I wanted to speak for them and make sure their concerns were being heard. It may have fallen on deaf ears but at least it was out there.
Then, late Sunday evening, the news broken about the mayor finally making the difficult decision to shut down schools until April 20th. That following Monday would be treated as a snow day and Tuesday through Thursdays, teachers would go into schools to receive training on remote learning while practicing social distancing and Friday would also be a training day but from home.
Going in on that Tuesday felt surreal. We’ve had professional development days in the building with no students before but with the fear of Corona Virus looming over us, interactions with staff was different. Rather than gathering in our library or in one of the classrooms that could seat all of us, everyone was in their rooms meeting over Google Meet.
We were introduced to Google Classroom and started creating our own classroom. I had a plan on how I would spend the three days in school and prepping which materials I would haul home to prepare my students for remote learning. I had planned to take home a different class pet on each or the three days we were scheduled to be in the building. I would take home Tails, our leopard gecko that day, then Apollo, our box turtle on Wednesday, and all of our stick insects and two fish on that final Thursday. The plants would be brought to my parents’ apartment who conveniently lived in the neighborhood.
We were given time to set up our class and prepare what we needed. We would virtually meet again after lunch at 1PM.
1PM came around and the meeting was pushed to 1:30. 1:30 came and the tone of the meeting was very different. All of a sudden we were told that things had changed. And we only had the day to prepare things to take home and that we would not be coming back this week. I checked online to see if other schools were given the same instructions. There was nothing. Whatever happened, it was only happening at our school.
Without more information, our staff were in a panic as they started to assume the worst. Perhaps there was a positive case in our building. They gathered what they could and ran out of the building.
There I was...stuck, scared, and unsure of what to do. What about my animals? What about my plants? and all the other materials I would need and planned to take home the other days? I began moving all the living things to my mom’s house but also worried about going to her place. What if I had it? What if I had already given it to her? And what about my pregnant wife and 2 year old child? All of these thoughts poured into my mind with all sorts of emotions and what if scenarios.
My wife picked up my son, myself, and all the things I could possible take from my classroom in that short 1 hour span after we had been given the news. At around 4PM, our staff received an email informing us that someone in our school community tested positive for Covid19. At that moment, I am sure all of my colleagues did what I did and thought back to any interactions we may have had with the teacher. I was worried for my elderly mother and my pregnant wife. We would self-quarantine at home and hope for the best.
The next morning, during our virtual staff meeting, we were told that all of us are still supposed to report to the school building....
We were shocked and appalled. If we did not report to the building for work, it would be considered a sick day. The reason given was that the confirmed Covid19 case was only a self confirmed case and NOT one confirmed by the Department of Health. The building was still open and a site where children can pick up breakfast and lunch.
I regretfully chose not to go in that Wednesday and Thursday for the safety of myself and my family. I say regretfully because wanted to go in to retrieve the materials I still needed for my students. I am extremely disappointed at the response and actions of those in charge of making the decisions that put our entire school community in danger. Not only our staff but the families of the students we serve as well.