Coronavirus lessons in resilience for city schools


(re: “Community copes with COVID-19,” March 12)

As we unsettle into the new “normal” of COVID-19, I can’t help but be keenly aware of the yawning gap that a crisis like this makes clear.

SAR, the private day school here in the Bronx that my four children attend, was quickly able to create an online learning environment and an instant support network for the kids and families in quarantine. It took tremendous effort by the school leadership, and we are lucky and grateful that, for example, more than 119,000 learning minutes over 198 classes happened in the high school one day after the shutdown.

Would the New York City public school system be able to do the same thing for its students? It would not. Investments to build resilience into the public school system and our city cannot wait.

Resilience is our ability to withstand what the world throws our way. Science helps us anticipate what’s coming and allows us to create an environment in which we can thrive. But resilience, at least currently, means different things for different communities. Which is why it must always be tied to equity. Otherwise, we are not really resilient at all.

After a crisis, if the place where we land is different based on the neighborhood we live in, our economic level, and/or the color of our skin, then whatever resilience we as a city have put in place is ultimately inadequate and inequitable.

In New York City, there are more than 1 million children in the public school system, and three-quarters of them “rely on schools not only for meals, but also for in-school medical clinics, guidance counselors, laundry machines, and many other services, according to The New York Times.

But all of our kids ultimately need what some of our kids are getting now. Here are six ways that the city needs to close the equity gaps, because it is only by addressing all of these problems at once, holistically, we will be ready for dealing equitably with emergencies like this virus:

• Broadband needs to be widely available, both at home and in all public schools. Kids in quarantine cannot get to the library.

• Technology must be available to all students who don’t have their own, both for regular school use and then for emergency. Parents and communities need to be trained on how to interact with devices to be able to help their children learn.

• Child care for all ages needs to be standard.

• Food insecurity needs to be addressed. For now, healthy, fresh food deliveries need to be provided to families that need it.

• Health care access needs to be local, easy and available.

• Public school teachers’ contracts must allow for instruction to pivot from in-classroom to online, or for any other flexibility, to accommodate an emergent situation, for the benefit of the students.

The fact is that outbreaks like the coronavirus, similar to the climate emergency, unfold in a non-linear way. One minute, we are all healthy. The next minute, we are all infected. Schools close. Markets tank. And life as we know it is completely upended.

One minute, it’s a fall day and the sun is shining. The next day, Manhattan is under water, and the Bronx is in the dark, and Sandy is no longer just a woman’s name.

SAR was the first school in the country to deal directly with COVID-19. But all the students have access to broadband at home. Most of its students have their own devices, and if they don’t, the school has enough to loan. We take it for granted that all students are food-secure, have access to healthy fresh meals, generally have health care as needed, and if someone in the community is lacking, the community will fill in the gaps.

But that’s not what life is like in every neighborhood across the city. And that needs to change now, if not sooner.

The author is a candidate for city council.

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Jessica Haller,