It’s Irresponsible to Reopen NYC Schools without a Plan

A classroom is empty during the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced teachers and students to adjust to virtual learning. (CNN)

It is irresponsible to reopen NYC schools without a robust plan that prioritizes COVID-19 safety, workers’ rights, and high-quality equitable education for all students.

I care deeply about education, development, enrichment, and joy for our school children. As an educator, I know that in-person learning is the best way to achieve that. However, as the daughter of doctors and a political activist, I care about the health of our communities, and the rights of school teachers and staff as laborers. The reckless actions of our mayor and governor — to promote school reopening without a serious plan or investment in health and safety for our already dramatically underfunded schools — pit those two priorities against each other. Students vs. teachers, education vs. health. But the part of the equation missing is money. This plan gets kids back to school so that their parents can get back to work. But teachers, students, and staff are not disposable.

Equity and Justice

A hybrid model that is not adequately resourced will only make the job harder for teachers (who are already vastly underpaid and undervalued) and increase inequities that run rampant in our schools and city. The most vulnerable students and families will have no choice but to send their students back to school, whereas wealthier families with access to child care, flexible jobs, and disposable income will be able to keep their children home while keeping their jobs, protect their bubbles from COVID-19 risk, and hire private tutors to enhance their children’ education. They will do this because they know that the school reopening is not safe. A system that is not safe for everyone is an endorsement of two parallel systems, one for rich kids and one for poor kids, which deepens inequities in both health and education. When I speak of the “E” Education for all part of my Kristin for H.A.R.L.E.M. disrupt the district with radical love platform this is the exact system I want to disrupt, the two tiers in education.

The Need for A Robust Plan

Schools must remain closed until the city implements a true safe reopening plan that is informed by community stakeholders (staff, teachers, students, and families), and backed by substantial resource redistribution. The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) has put forth a comprehensive Health Justice Agenda for NYC, outlining and demanding the necessary steps for a safe and just school reopening. These demands include:

  • Universal testing, contact tracing, social distancing, PPE for all, and basic sanitary supplies in all schools
  • Major capital improvements to school buildings and equipment, such as HVAC upgrades
  • Hiring more essential staff like nurses, social workers, grief counselors, and school psychiatrists
  • Removing the NYPD from schools
  • Rejecting the influence of private interests in public schools
  • Prioritizing the accessibility of new health protocols, with an eye towards diverse learners including homeless, adult, and incarcerated students.

I would be proud to send our students, teachers, and staff back to schools like that.

Kristin Richardson Jordan (KRJ aka “Kristin for H.A.R.L.E.M.”) is a poet, local activist, speaker, teacher, DSA member, Black queer woman, and third-generation Harlemite on a mission to disrupt District 9 (central Harlem) with radical love. Her political platform includes advocacy for police accountability, abolition, affordable housing, redistribution of resources, senior care, gun control, education, and environmental justice. Her website is at