Williams calls for remote learning option as school reopening nears

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New York City Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams.
Photo by Steve Solomonson, file

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on Wednesday called for remote learning option as school reopening nears.

“With under two weeks until the start of the school year, and as the Delta variant continues to spread, the city has yet to announce crucial safety plans or remote learning protocols,” said Williams.

At a City Council hearing on Wednesday on the impending reopening, Williams called for a remote learning option to be available to vulnerable students to start the school year, and lamented that “lack of adequate transparency or planning has yet again created confusion and concern about the reopening process.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” said the Public Advocate at the start of the hearing of the Committee on Education, citing the administrative struggles of last year, which. he thinks, are “repeating in the lead up to the reopening.”

“The highly contagious Delta variant poses a new challenge to the vaccinated and the unvaccinated alike,” Williams warned. “It is imperative that the Department of Education (DOE) have a clear, transparent plan for protecting students, educators, school staff and their families before the school year begins.

“The DOE should also provide a remote learning option for students and educators who do not feel comfortable attending learning in-person,” he urged. “Until students of all ages can be vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Delta variant is under control, students and educators are at risk in school buildings.”

Williams focused on what he said are “the failures of the city to provide a remote option, as well as ensure that proper precautions are in place in schools.

“Thousands of classrooms have been cleared by the DOE as having adequate ventilation for safe, in-person instruction, even though they do not meet the COVID-19 standards set by federal experts or recommended by building industry experts,” he said. “And it is unacceptable with the amount of time the DOE has had to prepare for thousands of classrooms to be relying on open windows for clean air.”

The public advocate highlighted the risks posed with larger class sizes, saying “many schools in New York City face a safety challenge the DOE has long been aware of.

“Overcrowding – mask mandates in school will undoubtedly help control the spread of COVID-19,” he said. But there are circumstances in which students and educators will have to remove their masks.

“There are also some students with disabilities, such as autism, who are unable to continuously wear a mask,” Williams added. “With the Delta variant, making removing masks, even for a few moments, (is) a safety risk. The DOE must provide guidance to keep students and educators safe in crowded settings.”

In the highly likely event that there are COVID-19 cases in a classroom or school, the Public Advocate claimed “there are inadequate procedures and guidance for quarantining and protecting fellow students and staff.

“This further points to the need for a well-developed remote learning process to begin the year,” he said.

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