Most of my friends could not believe that my school remained open in early March. I attend a specialized high school in New York City that is under the supervision of the New York City Department of Education, meaning that Mayor de Blasio is the decision-maker with regard to school closings. While many of my friends had their schools immediately implement a recess or convert to distance learning due to Covid-19, Mayor de Blasio told the country that he wanted New York City schools to stay open during this time.
Public schools in NYC contain children whose family incomes span a wide range. While a small number of families are in the top one percent and have access to quality childcare and second homes to which they can flee in times of uncertainty, most of the students in the New York City public schools do not have these options. School provides a place of refuge and escape and many students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Two weeks ago, my school sent out a questionnaire to students asking about our digital access. Soon afterward, we learned that the New York Public Library closed all of its branches, meaning that many students who relied on these libraries for WIFI access would not be able to access the Internet or complete online work. While the New York City Department of Education stated that they would continue to distribute computers and other devices to students in need, this has been a very slow process, and some families have not received such devices. Even when students have the devices, children in remote learning situations may have trouble gaining reliable access to WIFI, and parents may be unable to troubleshoot technical problems.
However, there are also students who felt progressively less comfortable and safe attending school. While we have soap and wipes, how could we prevent the spread of this virus? Because it can take up to a week for symptoms to show up, could we be passing this on to others? As a teenager with no health conditions that make me at risk, I might end up being a carrier of the virus. Could I impact my parents or, more likely, my grandparents? By shutting down schools we, as individual students, do not have to make the choice between staying home or attending class and potentially risk bringing the disease to the more vulnerable members of our communities.
I have never seen so much uncertainty in our world. I have never questioned the spread of germs before and have never seen the nearest drugstore run out of Purell; so much for America being the land of the plenty.
But maybe this will force us to think about how we can improve society. What does it say about our City when schools cannot close due to a lack of other social services options? We should have implemented neighborhood contingency plans in order to assist students who are struggling financially or who do not have the resources that others do in this situation. While the City is offering three free meals to children across all five boroughs, we need to make sure that each child has access to learning during this time so that the disparities in educational outcomes do not further widen.
Ilana Drake is a junior at the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering in Manhattan.Nike