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A really steep learning curve: Parents and kids are at the mercy of politicians sketching out school reopening plans


In small ways and big ones, the New York Pause has been very weird. The city is racing to reopen even as the virus spreads rapidly in the rest of the country, auguring its return here just in time for flu season and the school year.

Small weird: Fertility clinics are open, but some of them shuttered the rooms men had used to produce samples. Now, the men are given a collection kit and instructed to figure it out somewhere else and return within an hour of deposit.

Big weird: No one knows when, exactly, their kids are going to be in school in a system with 1.1 million students that — counting its 75,000 teachers and tens of thousands of administrators, staffers and others — would be America’s 10th largest city, larger than 10 states.

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza say they’ll reopen public school buildings in September, with most teachers returning full-time and most kids coming in two or three days a week. Parents won’t find out which days until August, assuming the plan’s still in effect then. Stay tuned. Also to find out what’s happening with classroom flow, health checks, busing and a host of other devilish and critical details that no one in a position of central authority is saying much about as the city’s 1,800 principals race to prepare their schools.

It was one thing for the city to work out closure details on the fly in mid-March; quite another to be working out reopening details on the fly in mid-July — about 50 days from the presumed start of the school year.

Meantime, the city just announced a huge push to create 50,000 childcare seats to cover 100,000 school-age children whose parents need to work on the alternating days that their kids will supposedly be in Zoom school, rather than school school, as the virus has put a harsh spotlight on the ways in which the system functions as, among many other things, a way to let parents remain in the workforce.

Whatever the city plans will come down to what Gov. Cuomo decides as the virus circulates. And what Cuomo decides will have a great deal to do with Washington does or, more likely, doesn’t do. The virus isn’t constrained by city or state borders, but our response to it is as Washington’s Republicans have all but abdicated.

While Cuomo has made his share of bad decisions, he’s at least made decisions, aggressively exercising and expanding his authority while leaving little doubt about who’s responsible for his decisions.

President Trump, on the other hand, is tweeting impotent demands to local schools to reopen and holding moronic campaign rallies dressed up as White House virus “briefings.” He’s not providing federal guidance let alone funding for schools to safely reopen, just pushing for enough of a return to normal to get him through November. And, if that helps erode the public school system and puts mostly Democratic and unionized teachers in a tight corner, that’s icing on his filthy cake.

Since Carranza came to town, a lot of the conversation here has centered around the elite public schools and how unrepresentative they are of the broader city and school system. Now, Trump’s buck-passing and his party’s disinterest in buck-spending have significantly exacerbated the natural disaster that’s stress-testing New York City’s hard-earned buy-in for public schools across economic and demographic lines.

The danger is that our public schools could become a system of last resort, like in many other American cities, where parents able to do so often pay for private education, or move, when their kids hit school age.

As the virus arrived here, Washington initially spent trillions of dollars to buy time — and Trump spent that time waiting for the “miracle” he says will make the virus “just disappear” while forcing governors and mayors to make impossible decisions. Now, it’s parents who are at the mercy of those decisions as we gamble on our kids, our incomes and our lives.

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