With just days to spare, the Department of Education scrambled Monday to marshal a remote-learning plan for more than one million city students in the wake of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school shutdown.
“It won’t be easy,” said teachers union boss Michael Mulgrew Monday. “It won’t be perfect. But we need to get this done.”
Teachers will return to their buildings Tuesday to prepare a “distance learning” mode of instruction for kids suddenly stuck at home due to coronavirus fears.
The DOE said that levels of preparedness vary wildly across the city’s sprawling system of 1,800 schools.
Chancellor Richard Carranza said at City Hall Monday that some city teachers are already familiar with remote learning programs like Google Classroom and are well-suited for the transition.
“And yet we have other educators who have never touched this kind of learning before,” he cautioned.
Carranza said that the DOE is focused on providing the city’s 80,000 teachers basic training on distance learning tools and practices.
After this week’s training sessions, teachers will no longer come to school and will teach remotely.
Carranza stressed Monday that they will be toiling under deeply challenging circumstances.
“This isn’t a five-week vacation,” he said. “Our teachers are working. They are working in a different environment.”
A Brooklyn city principal said schools that are generally organized and benefit from parental involvement and abundant resources will have a far easier time implementing the emergency plan.
“At some schools it’s going to be relatively effective,” she said. “That’s the best case scenario. At other schools, honestly, it’s going to be a mess.”
More than 300,000 city students — or nearly a third of the entire system population — do not have an adequate device at home for remote learning, officials have said.
The department is partnering with Apple and other companies to purchase bulk devices to fill that void as quickly as possible. They are also attempting to provide home wifi service for families that currently lack it.
Meanwhile, the Success Academy charter school network created its remote learning program over the last four days and is preparing to roll it out.
Officials said they are focusing on keeping expectations realistic while maintaining student engagement and progress.
The network’s model will include group videoconferences with teachers and up to 100 students as well as individual phone calls from instructors to kids throughout the day.
“We wanted to create a simple, pragmatic program for all of our kids,” said Jessica Sie, Director of Literacy and History. “This is a challenging time and we want to build on the foundation already in place.”
Parents in Park Slope were already organizing Slack channels Monday to facilitate remote learning and general communication.
The mother of a child at PS 295 said that the system shutdown is wreaking havoc on parents.
“The challenge is figuring out how to reorganize your entire life so you can continue going to work or going to school and arranging for childcare,” she said. “And then along with all that you are suddenly trying to learn how to home school.”
Other parents are scheduling video playdates for their kids in order to maintain some semblance of normalcy and calm.
In addition to maintaining instruction, the DOE is also tasked Monday with keeping hundreds of thousands of city children adequately fed.
The department allowed city kids to pick up breakfasts and lunches at all school buildings Monday and will continue to provide food moving forward at dedicated locations.
Carranza said that roughly 14,000 kids showed up to grab meals Monday and that he expected that number to grow in the coming days and weeks.
The DOE will also repurpose some schools as “enrichment centers” to provide daycare and other critical help for parents working in essential city services including healthcare and first responders.