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Dear Governor Cuomo,
Since the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I have turned to your press conferences for fact-based recommendations, empathy and encouragement. I have expressed my pride in being a New Yorker as people from around the world tune into your press briefings. Until last week.
Last week, you talked about “reimagining education.” At first, I was hopeful. I thought, maybe he will address the mental health needs of our students. The harsh disparities that exist between the haves and the have-nots. The focus on common core standards and teaching to the test.
Instead, you proceeded to talk about how “amazing” the transition to online learning went. That anyone could wonder why the old “normal” even exists anymore. You implied that the solutions to all problems are to just shift it online. You announced a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to take the steps to do this. A few days later, your secretary, Melissa DeRosa, backtracked given the backlash you received. However, I truly don’t think you understand just how wrong your statements were.
On March 13, we walked out of our school building, tables and boards prepped for next week’s lesson. Little did we know we wouldn’t return. In the days that followed, we would shift education and counseling online. We would work countless hours learning new technology. We would make copies, distribute food and contact every family by phone to check on our families.
We listened to stories about parents losing jobs, essential workers trying to educate their children while they were still working, students with no internet access so they are trying to read through packets. Added onto this were parents who never got a high school diploma, who do not know how to read and cannot support their children through the work.
We learned of students sobbing, of teens sinking into a deeper depression, of students who were already behind and falling even further because they couldn’t access the education. Because they were surviving.
Governor, do you know what it is like to live in trauma? How about to learn in trauma? It can be impossible. So many children live in homes that are unsafe. They depend on school for food, heat and shelter. They depend on school for the one hug they get each day. For love. As a school staff member, we know those children — we see them scan the crowds as they walk in, looking for that staff member they gravitate toward. We feel them cling to us just a little bit longer when they reach us. For these children, school is their safe place.
We are so much more than four walls. We are so much more than the curriculum we deliver. That is something you will never be able to reimagine.
For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community: