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The revelation in the New York Post last weekend that for nearly three months Mayor de Blasio had rebuffed offers from the Somos Community Care network to offer free testing for the coronavirus at the city's most at-risk schools was stunning yet typical.
From the outset of rising concerns about the virus last March, the Mayor has been slow to act, belatedly—and clearly reluctantly—ordering March 15 that the public schools be shut down largely because of pressure from Governor Cuomo and a growing rebellion among school employees as some of their colleagues contracted the disease.
The Mayor planned to have students and educators voluntarily seek tests at city-run sites and hospitals rather than requiring that they be tested. This prompted the chairman of Somos, Dr. Ramon Tallaj, to tell a Post reporter, "The Mayor is surrounded by people who do not grasp what is going on. If he opens schools the way he is proposing, parents are going to die" as their children picked it up from classmates and, while perhaps not showing symptoms themselves, brought it home to more-vulnerable family members.
Mr. de Blasio's belatedly agreeing Sept. 1 to postpone the start of in-person classes until Sept. 21 came three weeks after Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro proposed that as the start date, saying he did not believe the city had moved far enough along with its planning and coordination with the unions to safely open on schedule Sept. 10.
He did so, once again, under public pressure, this time in the form of a strike-authorization vote that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew was prepared to hold a few hours later.
Those who accused Mr. Mulgrew of engaging in a labor power play completely misread the situation. This wasn't about muscle-flexing, unless the muscles involved were the brain and the heart. The union lost more than 70 members to the coronavirus earlier this year, with paraprofessionals accounting for nearly as much of the death toll as Teachers. Not only couldn't the UFT leader afford to indulge the Mayor's obstinacy any longer, he faced an insurrection from his rank and file if he tried.
The deal they reached won't require testing of everyone who enters school buildings. Between 10 and 20 percent of students and staff at a particular school will be tested for COVID-19 on a monthly basis, with more-frequent testing for students who live in zip codes that experience a spike in cases. And questions remain as to whether pushing back the start of in-person classes by 11 days will be sufficient to allow thorough preparation.
The Chicago and Los Angeles public-school systems previously decided not to hold in-person classes in the fall semester. There is no question that remote learning is less effective than having students and Teachers sharing classrooms. But the issue has always been, at what price?
The Mayor's refusal of a well-regarded group's offer to provide testing three months ago seems rooted in ideology: a desire not to compel testing for children of color who live in the areas where the most at-risk schools are located. But given that the coronavirus has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color, that makes no sense from a practical standpoint.
Then again, we got a reminder of how foolish Mr. de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza can be with the disclosure this week that a Principal who had taken no action against a female student who engaged in a brutal beatdown of a younger girl and a male student who for months sexually harassed a girl before finally assaulting her has finally been removed from what was the once well-regarded Marie Curie Middle School in Queens.
Both the assailants were eventually arrested by police. Yet neither was ever suspended—not by the bounced Principal, Henry Schandel—who unfortunately will continue as an Assistant Principal elsewhere rather than being removed from the system, and not by Mr. Carranza once the incidents were publicized.
The Chancellor and the Mayor are convinced that a disproportionate number of suspensions are given to black and brown students and have sought to discourage that discipline from being used. It's not clear that they've studied the cases individually before reaching that conclusion. But ideology turns into idiocy when assaults of such severity are not met with harsh school discipline.
And their failure to understand that is all that needs to be known as to why Mr. Mulgrew—long an ally of Mr. de Blasio's—was unwilling to take on faith his assurances that the schools would be safe to return to by Sept. 10.