Dueling rallies in Harlem about reopening NYC schools

Ellen Moynihan, New York Daily News
·2 min read

Parents on both sides of the debate over the mayor’s planned September reopening of all city schools squared off Saturday in dueling demonstrations.

The deeply-divided groups are at odds over the start of 2021-22 school year, when Mayor de Blasio intends to have all city schools open five days a week in hopes of getting students back in the classroom as pandemic infection numbers continue to wane.

The plan created an immediate schism among parents, with advocates on either side turning out in East Harlem.

“We want to make sure that everybody’s safe and so we’re here to stand up, stand up against the keep schools open crowd,” said Kaliris Salas, mother to an elementary school student and president of East Harlem’s Education Council. “... The only thing we want is our buildings, our teachers and our children to be safe.”

Salas’ fellow demonstrators wore yellow sashes fashioned like “Caution” tape with the message “We won’t die for the DOE.”

Just a few hundred feet away, protesters at the “Rally to Reopen Schools” voiced their support for a citywide return to classrooms for New York’s 960,000 public school students. The pro-opening group included about 100 students, parents and coaches — along with a pair of candidates for City Hall.

“Zoom in a room,” said mayoral hopeful Kathryn Garcia, who was joined by fellow candidate Andrew Yang. “What could be worse than having to get up, go to school, just to sit on a computer?”

Earlier this month, Mayor de Blasio announced the return of another 51,000 students to classrooms — bringing the total number of kids now attending classes in public school buildings to about 360,000, Education Department officials estimate. The number is less than 40% of the city’s students, with the rest still learning online at home.

Harlem resident Alex Williams will start college at Bryant University after finishing his senior year with in-school attendance at Iona Prep in New Rochelle, and he felt the school closings denied city kids access to important parts of the in-person experience.

“As a private school kid, I was given opportunities that I see a lot of my friends aren’t,” said the 18-year-old. “I was allowed to have football season. I was able to be recruited. I can walk up to whatever teacher and ask them if I’m having an issue. I feel all students need that ... and deserve that.”

Yang noted that other communities around the state and the country are planning to open their school come September. But school opening opponent Tajh Sutton, an educator and author, dismissed the pro-opening crowd with its mayoral candidates as publicity seekers in the ongoing debate.

“When Keep Schools Open gets their photo op, we won’t see then again,” said Sutton. “They won’t be coming back to Harlem, because they don’t actually care. They are not invested.”