NYC Public Schools Close as COVID-19 Positivity Rates Rise

While the recent announcement of school closures has drastic implications for students across New York City, its impact on the Stuyvesant community is less dramatic yet still notable.

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After the COVID-19 seven-day positivity rate passed three percent on Wednesday, October 18, New York City (NYC) Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Richard Carranza announced that NYC public schools will close for all in-person learning starting the following day. Schools had been open for eight weeks since the start of the academic year in late September, the first time they had opened their doors after closing on March 15.

Since the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year, no members of the Stuyvesant community in the building have tested positive for COVID-19. But if the NYC COVID-19 positivity rates continue to rise, it is possible that schools will remain closed past Thanksgiving. “We know we’re closing for a minimum of two weeks,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said.

The transition for Stuyvesant students is less substantial than that of other NYC public schools given Stuyvesant’s exception plan: all classes are conducted virtually, and students who come into Stuyvesant are able to remotely participate in their classes from a centralized location in the building. “We’re very lucky that we have a model that allows us to switch to fully remote without any real inconvenience for students, even for blended students,” Student Union (SU) President Julian Giordano said. “It really doesn’t change anything about how things work.”

SU Vice President Shivali Korgaonkar agreed. “As high school students and especially as Stuy students, we don’t have the need to have our parents constantly checking up on us or telling us to do our homework or study for tests, or even just have our parents take care of us 24/7,” she said.

Though Stuyvesant’s exception model allows for a smooth transition between blended and remote learning, this change has created ripples across NYC. “I’m more concerned about what closures mean across the city: for younger kids, for students who need extra services and support, for working parents,” math teacher Patrick Honner said in an e-mail interview.

This announcement also has some negative implications for members of the Stuyvesant community despite the more seamless transition. “The burden is on those students who have to take care of their younger siblings who may be in elementary school,” Korgaonkar said. “I could only imagine how difficult it will be for Stuy students who do have to worry about [taking care of a sibling] and playing a bigger role within their household.”

For the administration, this change requires them to work from home unless they are needed in the physical building for activities such as distributing devices to families. “The DOE is making an allowance for certain personnel involved in necessary functions and device distribution if they need to come to the building, and other necessary and approved staff,” Ingram said.

Though more teachers have been working remotely as the semester progressed, teachers who had relied on the Stuyvesant building as a stable work environment will need to adjust to fully remote instruction. “The greatest advantage of being at school for me is having access to instruments, a music library, and necessary props and technology to successfully teach my chorus classes. At home, I have a tiny electronic piano, very little space, and family and neighbors who are not always excited when I have to play or sing at nine in the morning,” music coordinator Liliya Shamazov said in an e-mail interview. “At the same time, I am grateful that we have access to all this technology and are able to have face-to-face interactions with students and staff, even if it's on Zoom.”

Honner faces a similar situation with his work environment at home. “I’ll […] have less access to a dedicated workspace and reliable Internet at home. And like my students, I may have to contend with the occasional random background dancer or violin practice while I Zoom,” he said. “But I’ll adapt, just like the students have, and we’ll continue to get through this together.”

Still, many teachers feel that they are more prepared to make this transition the second time around. “It's an adjustment, but this past year has been all about adjustments and changes, so I’ll make it work,” Shamazov said.

On an emotional level though, some teachers and blended learners will miss being in the Stuyvesant building. “I’ve been happy to be in the building this year,” Honner said. “I’ve been able to interact in person with some colleagues and students on a regular basis, and that has really helped me get a handle on what I’m doing with my classes. I’ll certainly miss that as we switch to full remote instruction.”

Sophomore Inara Rabbani is also disappointed with the announcement. “Honestly, I don’t think that schools have that big of an impact on the spread of the virus and anything, and I felt like this was helpful for a lot of us to be able to have a change of scenery,” she said. “I really liked being able to leave the house once in a while, and it wasn’t the type of thing [that] I had to be going to school every day, but it was just twice a week or so, and I could feel more motivated because I wasn’t cooped up in the same room every single day.”

Senior Zoe Piccirillo expressed a similar sentiment about school closures. “I think the decision is not addressing how COVID actually spreads. I believe the reason why cases are rising is [the] adults gathering in groups,” she said. “Since school started, New York’s had extremely low transmission rates within schools. So I don’t think it’s fair for students to have to plan last minute for remote learning […] when they’re not necessarily the population contributing to the increase in the positivity rate.”

From the administration’s perspective, the change also sets back some of Stuyvesant’s progress with blended learning. “This was disappointing because we really were getting in the groove of doing some things toward socialization and plans, and we’ll still plan for them and hope that we head in the other direction, toward returning,” Ingram said.

In addition, some have concerns about what this school closure means for the rest of the year. “If we go down this route, if we are very quick to close schools and are not willing to focus on opening schools, as a city we need to make a decision about what our priorities are—and our priority should be schools. I think schools should stay open unless the cases in schools rise significantly,” Giordano said. “We all want to see Stuyvesant open in some capacity as soon as possible, and if we keep having shutdowns like this, I think that prevents us from getting to a stage where Stuy could reopen.”

Senior Jonathan Xu is also concerned about a potential a future school reopening. “I think the biggest change is what’s going to happen going forward. Since they’ve already done so many reversals, they will be reluctant to reopen the schools early, so we might stay in lockdown a little longer than we otherwise would,” he said.

Ultimately, the Stuyvesant community, after already experiencing its first school closure in the spring, is capable of withstanding this transition. “We got everybody ready,” Ingram said. “And I think everybody is ready. Because we’ve done this before.”