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Good news: New York City began vaccinating teachers against COVID-19 on Monday. That leaves the teachers’ union no excuse for continuing to oppose in-person learning: Classrooms at all grade levels must reopen so our kids can get the education they’re entitled to — but have lost out on for nearly a year.
United Federation of Teachers chief Michael Mulgrew announced Sunday his members have been given vaccine priority, along with the elderly and transit and public-safety workers, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally gave in to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pleading and expanded eligibility. And Blas said teachers working inside classrooms get first dibs. (Though some of the 20,000 — more than one in four — who got medical exemptions to work remotely have started signing up, too.)
Middle- and high-school students haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since the city shut schools on Nov. 19. Though even that was only part-time. Pre-kindergarten and elementary students resumed a “hybrid” learning last month, while special-needs kids returned to classrooms full-time. Kudos to de Blasio for getting that much done; children needing special ed are particularly ill-served by remote classes.
But all kids need to go back, full-time. “Without in-person instruction, schools risk children falling behind academically and exacerbating educational inequities,” warned a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine report last year. Nathaniel Beers, coauthor of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ report, explained that all children suffer under remote learning, even teens: “Adolescence is a period of time in life when you are to be exploring your own sense of self and developing your identity,” he said. “It’s difficult to do that if you are at home with your parents all the time.”
These experts emphasized that children were at low risk of catching or transmitting the coronavirus, but the UFT doesn’t care about the science — or the students. It threatened first a lawsuit and then a strike, only going back on the job when the mayor offered new concessions, including a no-layoffs guarantee. And it has continually pushed to reclose schools and to avoid any more reopenings, with more-radical factions demanding all schools shuttered until the whole city is basically virus-free.
Yet as de Blasio noted last week, “The safest place to be in New York City is, of course, our public schools.” As the city’s positivity rate inches up toward 9 percent, the schools are well below 1 percent.
With teachers near the front of the line for vaccinations, there’s no reason they can’t get back on the job instead of teaching remotely from, as some of them have done, vacation spots and even the backseat of a car. New York’s children have lost nearly a year of education; it’s long past time they get to learn in a classroom again.
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