Cross your fingers that the city Department of Education manages to reopen schools Monday without any serious bungles. Questions range from the now-traditional bus snafus to how vaccine mandates will play out to availability of remote-learning for kids forced to miss school due to illness or a COVID-related quarantine.
For the first time in at least a generation, the system will open to fewer than a million kids — 890,000 to be exact. Yet it will have more teachers than ever, with staff added to cope with the extra classes required by social-distancing rules.
With a ton of federal relief cash dumped on the DOE, the city is on track to spend $38 billion on schools this fiscal year, including for all those added teachers. That works out to a mind-boggling $42,700 per child, which leaves no room for excuses on any front.
The rest of the state faces a shortage of school-bus drivers (in one tiny Upstate district upstate, the superintendent and transportation director drove routes this summer), the DOE insists it’s fine, with a spokesman telling us that good pay and “generous benefits” did the trick.
But that doesn’t guarantee drivers will know their routes: In past years, that’s taken days and even weeks to sort out. The bus-tracking app, which DOE promised after a paralyzing snowstorm in November 2018 trapped kids for hours aboard school-buses, has yet to show. City Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) says the technology is just sitting on a shelf at Tweed.
Still unclear is how the vax mandate for all school staff will play out, nor how scattered positive COVID tests will impact kids’ learning. Mayor Bill de Blasio vows that class and school closures will be rare; we wish him all success on that front.
Teachers with vaccine exemptions will remain on the job, but it’s unclear what will happen to others who refuse the jabs, nor how hard the unions will fight on their behalf. The mayor is talking tough, at least.
Longer term, we worry about the impact of de Blasio’s war on educational quality, as his DOE looks to water down or eliminate everything from competitive exams for entry into elite schools to honor rolls and Gifted & Talented programs.
But the first test is whether the DOE, though drowning in cash, can manage to reopen without weeks of chaos.