Acting out of an abundance of recklessness, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has decided public schools will be open on Monday as the rest of Gotham shuts down around them to stunt the spread of coronavirus. We can’t have Knicks games or Broadway shows, but apparently a million elementary school kids rubbing snot on each other and teenagers making out is just fine. It makes no sense.
This week, de Blasio appeared on “The Daily Show” to explain his position. This is fitting; it is a place known for sad jokes that aren’t funny, which is what Blas’s school policy is. In a nutshell, Hizzoner explained that kids aren’t tending to get sick from the Wuhan virus. Rather it is affecting the elderly most severely. This is absolutely true, but also entirely beside the point.
The primary fear regarding schools is that kids can become asymptomatic carriers bringing the virus home to more vulnerable parents and grandparents. What is the point of social distancing if we are sending armies of children out to potentially spread the virus? This is why millions of American students have already had school canceled, even in places that are not the most densely populated city in the country that is already a hotspot.
To put this in some perspective, if it were to snow 6 inches over Sunday night, schools would very likely be canceled Monday. Instead a pandemic of a deadly virus has reached New York City, and we have little idea how widespread it is, but sure, ring the school bell. In fact, there have been no snow days in the city this year, so the schools are already ahead of the game. Can we just pretend it’s snowing, Mr. Mayor?
Close the schools for a week. Use that week to assess what we should do going forward. Not to do so is malpractice.
There are important concerns beyond simply education that come into play when school is canceled. It is where many children get access to healthy food. It is also where they receive social services. But these are challenges that can be met without holding normal school days where children, often in overcrowded conditions, expose each other to the Wuhan virus.
Meanwhile, the teacher’s union is furious at de Blasio over this decision and with good reason. The average age of a New York state public school teacher is 42. That puts a lot of teachers over 50 and at considerable risk. De Blasio’s laissez-faire approach, which he does not back up with hard science, callously and needlessly puts teachers at risk.
The mayor feels that a school closure would send a snowball down a hill and that conditions could make it impossible to reopen them for quite some time. That is a legitimate fear; it would cause chaos and inconvenience for parents, employers, and social services. The easiest thing to do is keep the schools open. But New York City needs de Blasio to do the harder thing.
Governing New York City is a nightmare of logistics and competing interests; it has been since before Tammany Hall. Finding fast solutions to the myriad problems that school closure would create is a daunting task, but so is being mayor of New York City. What are called for now are extraordinary and effective measures, not a hopeful status quo. That will be difficult, but de Blasio is the one who wanted to sit in the big chair.
New York is tough, New York is obstinate and contrarian, and these are all good things, but now is not the time to laugh at danger. The schools are doing their best to create and maintain sanitary conditions, but they need the mayor to have their back, not just a diminishing supply of hand sanitizer.
If de Blasio sticks to this absurd policy and opens schools on Monday, then Gov. Andrew Cuomo must step in to override him. Even members of his own party in city council understand what folly this is. As Democrat Justin Brannan put it on Twitter, “How can we preach social distancing while keeping the schools open?”
Bill de Blasio is increasingly on an island regarding this decision, which is ironic since he wants to expose New York City’s kids to coronavirus rather than isolate them. It’s the wrong decision, and he should reverse it immediately.