New York state Sen. Simcha Felder sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday night, asking that schools be allowed to begin sessions in Phase I of the economy’s re-opening, rather than waiting for Phase IV as currently scheduled.
All regions of the state other than New York City have either begun Phase I or are set to do so next week. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he expects New York City to begin Phase I sometime in early June.
Below is the full text of Felder’s letter to Cuomo:
Dear Governor Cuomo,
The education of New York’s children is essential, and our school system must be included in Phase 1 of New York’s reopening plan. All our school children are struggling, but none more so than special needs students, who have now been without necessary services for months. Special needs students are bearing the greatest burden for school closures with catastrophic, life-altering repercussions. As New York begins to re-open under the appropriate CDC and DOH safety guidelines, schools, including non-public schools, must be a priority. Education cannot and should not be delayed until Phase 4.
The unprecedented shift to shelter in place will undoubtedly have a profound and long-lasting impact on our young people’s academic, social, emotional, and life outcomes. While our school administrators and teachers have worked so hard and admirably to provide our students with a reasonable education in the current climate, remote learning simply does not provide the same level of instruction as being in the classroom. Not everyone has access to a laptop or internet; the socialization that happens in schools is not the same online; many students, especially the most vulnerable, are struggling. Every additional day that we delay only compounds the issues and sets us back even further.
Services for special needs students must open in Phase 1, as I believe they were always essential. The current system in place for special needs students is worse than neglectful, it is downright cruel, and needs to be addressed immediately. It has been devastating for families to watch their special needs child lose skills that have taken years to teach, in just a matter of weeks. Despite having federally mandated IEPs that prescribe year-round educational programming, they have languished for 8 long weeks, with no end in sight. Rapidly escalating reports from parents and educators are heartbreaking; they include children with autism whose verbal skills are disappearing and children whose frustration is increasingly expressed in destructive behavior.
Approximately 25,000 severely disabled children are served by DOE District 75 schools and thousands more are served by private or community programs. Severe impairments or multiple diagnoses make online/remote learning nearly impossible for most of them. The system in place does not meet their educational needs. Every day without a consistent, reliable schedule, and vital resources, these students regress—and hard-won skills are lost. The repercussions will require extensive remediation and the cost of delaying these services grows every day. Many educators stand ready to help, but their hands are tied. Yes, large-scale closures pose an unprecedented challenge for everyone, but sadly, it affects these students and their families to a far greater extent.
As you are aware, New York’s non-public schools face some additional challenges. In my district, many of the students who attend private schools do not have internet access. Remote learning is exceedingly difficult for families that eschew technology and these students do not have the ability to use Zoom, Google classroom or other online learning tools. I request that you consider allowing private schools to open as soon as possible, perhaps on a case by case basis. According to my research, twenty-two states have executive orders or recommendations for closure which only apply to public schools. In addition, I have received an enormous number of calls from parents and school administrators who believe non-public schools could open with the proper health protocols. These schools could be open for the summer to provide students with much need remedial work, helping both students and parents.
I know these are difficult discussions in difficult times and I do not write to you impulsively. New York’s students are our future and if we continue to delay their education, it will be at great financial and societal expense. With the recently released guidance from the CDC on the procedures for safely reopening of schools, it is time to move education into Phase 1. When the experts determine we can enter Phase 1 with proper health protocols in place, education must be at the forefront, not at the end.
I am available to discuss this critical matter by phone at 718-253-2015. I look forward to your imminent response.
NYS Senator, 17th S.D.