As the Omicron variant continues to surge, despite 90,132 new positive cases reported in New York on Saturday and one in three Covid-19 tests coming back positive in New York City, schools have been forced to stay open with insufficient safety measures as many students, and staff continue to test positive. Eleven members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Solidarity Caucus filed a lawsuit seeking mandatory remote learning until all students and workers can be tested, but Mayor Eric Adams continues to insist that schools must stay open at all costs, and even that schools are the safest place for students to be. Students and teachers are being forced to return to extremely unsafe conditions so that parents can go back to work and the economy can go “back to normal.” This anonymous account from a student at a specialized NYC high school provides a vivid depiction of the extent to which in-person learning is threatening student and educator health and safety, as well as not actually allowing students to learn or teachers to teach.
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I Am a New York City Public High School Student. The Situation is Beyond Control.
I’d like to preface this by stating that remote learning was absolutely detrimental to the mental health of myself, my friends, and my peers at school. Despite this, the present conditions within schools necessitates a temporary return to remote learning; if not because of public health, then because of learning loss.
A story of my day:
I arrived at school and promptly went to Study Hall. I knew that some of my teachers would be absent because they had announced it on Google Classroom earlier in the day. At our school there is a board in front of the auditorium with the list of teachers and seating sections for students within study hall: today there were 14 absent teachers 1st period. There are 11 seatable sections within the auditorium … THREE CLASSES sat on the stage. Study hall has become a super spreader event — I’ll get to this in a moment.
Second period I had another absent teacher. More of the same from 1st period. It was around this time that 25% of kids I know, including myself, realized that there were no rules being enforced outside of attendance at the start of the period, and that cutting class was ridiculously easy. We left — there was functionally no learning occurring within study hall, and health conditions were safer outside of the auditorium. It was well beyond max capacity.
Third period I had a normal class period. Hooray! First thing the teacher did was pass out COVID tests because we had all been close contacts to a COVID-positive student in our class. 4 more teachers would pass out COVID tests throughout the day, which were to be taken at home. The school started running low on tests, and rules had to be refined to ration.
“To be taken at home.” Ya … students don’t listen. 90% of the bathrooms were full of students swabbing their noses and taking their tests. I had one kid ask me — with his mask down, by the way — whether a “faint line was positive,” proceeding to show me his positive COVID test. I told him to go the nurse. One student tested positive IN THE AUDITORIUM, and a few students started screaming and ran away from him. There was now a lack of available seats given there was a COVID-positive student within the middle of the auditorium. They’re now planning on having teachers give up their free periods to act as substitute teachers because the auditorium is simply not safe enough.
Classes that I did attend were quiet and empty. Students are staying home because of risk of COVID without testing positive (as they should) and some of my classes had 10+ students absent. Nearly every class has listed myself and others are close contacts.
I should note that in study hall and with subs we literally learn nothing. I spent about 3 hours sitting around today doing nothing.
I tested positive for COVID on December the 14th. At the time there were a total of 6 cases. By the end of break this number was up to 36. By January the 3rd (when we returned from break) the numbers were up to 100 (as listed on the school Google Sheet). Today there are 226. This is around 10% of my school. As of Monday, only 30 (Edit: not sure of the specific number) or so of whom were reported to the DOE … which just seems like negligence to me (Edit: from DOE official number. I’d like to stress this isn’t the fault of the school just an overall system failure).
90% of the conversations spoken by students concern COVID. It has completely taken over any function of daily school life.
New York City public school students have called a student walkout for Tuesday, January 11, at 11:52pm to demand that the Department of Education temporarily close schools for the protection of all students and staff.