This is the last in a three-part series following the controversial school reopenings in Brooklyn during the pandemic. Part one covers the opening day and part two assesses how the decision to reopen schools was made. 

New York City is two weeks into a school year like no other, and here is how it is going so far. 

At least 169 public schools have switched to remote learning for a two-week period, due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in nine areas across Brooklyn and Queens, according to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Our schools are back,” de Blasio said. “We need to protect this progress all over New York City, and the way to do that is to focus on the areas having a challenge, work with them, support them, work together and overcome it.”

New Regulations

The city had criteria for closing the entire school system or a single school. But until the implementation of zones this past week, there was nothing in between. 

The city is now categorizing the severity of each infected area into a spectrum of red, orange and yellow zones. Red zones indicate a “full pause” and the harshest restrictions and yellow zones indicate the mildest restrictions, with orange zones falling in the middle. 

If the city’s average test positivity rate reaches 3% over seven days, the entire public school system would have to close under existing rulesAs of Wednesday, October 14, the infection rate is at 1.2%. 

Cuomo tweeted out this map of Brooklyn on October 6 with the new zone designations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined the criteria for each of the three types of zones in a tweet.

To help New Yorkers find out which limitations are in effect in any given area, de Blasio announced on October 8 the new online zone finder, used to determine the parameters of the current zones and which specific restrictions are in place in any location. 

“Look, the goal here is that everyone follows the rules for their zone,” de Blasio said. “As always, when we have to bring consequences to bear, we will.”

The city’s Department of Health issued a Commissioner’s Order on September 28 to non-public schools in six Brooklyn zip-codes mandating compliance with COVID-19 protocols like social distancing and testing. Any school found to be out of compliance will be issued a violation fine of 1,000 dollars and face possible closure. The DOH declined to comment.

In the Classroom

Jose Mares said he hasn’t experienced any major challenges sending his third-grader, Guadalupe, to school at Public School 123 in Bushwick so far.

“I think it’s [going] okay,” Mares said. “This area is good. Nobody is sick in their school. I don’t have worries about it.”

Jose and Guadalupe Mares at PS 123 in Bushwick. Photo: Miranda Levingston for BK Reader.

Sara McInerny, who teaches at PS 164, said some of her colleagues in areas with higher virus rates were concerned about coming in to work.

“Many people were scared to come into school and get sick,” McInerny toldd to the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers’ union of NYC.

In addition to safety concerns, Benjamin Viera, a PS 123 parent, said the logistical challenges are significant, especially the staggered scheduling.

“It’s been crazy,” Viera said. “Now we got it down pat. But before, yeah; it was going back and forth every week–which days they go in, which days they don’t go in.”

Remote learning has its logistical challenges as well.

PS 177 saw its first COVID case after the first day of in-person instruction on September 29. The school, which is in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood, a hotspot, switched to remote learning. But it later ran into technical difficulties.

“The internet was not working properly in the building,” Antonella Lombardo told the UFT. “The staff that had been in the building felt alone, frustrated and scared.”  PS 177 teachers ended up working out of a nearby school instead.

Karen Vizhany said the new safety protocols have been tough on her nephew, who is having to make prominent adjustments.

“Now my nephew has to come every day with a mask,” Vizhany said. “He doesn’t feel comfortable the whole day, but I don’t want him to stay home because, he’s not learning as he used to in school.”

Guadalupe Mares, a third-grader at PS 123, said she was happy to be back in school, despite these challenges.

“I like it because now I can see my classmates,” Mares said. “I’m happy that everyone is safe and that everyone is trying to defeat the pandemic.”

The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

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Miranda Levingston

Covering everything Brooklyn. Twitter: @MLevNews

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