As NYC schools face shutdown, nearly all-remote THHS stands prepared

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As the number of coronavirus cases has continued to rise significantly over the last few weeks, New York City’s positivity rate is approaching the 3% threshold that would lead to a citywide closure of schools. Schools will remain open on Monday as the average did not rise above 3% over the weekend, but with cases rising across the state and country, it appears likely that the city will reach 3% soon. Though there is uncertainty surrounding a shutdown, the Townsend Harris administration anticipates a smooth transition to fully remote learning should a shutdown occur.

Principal Brian Condon said that on Thursday night he received an email from the Chancellor’s Office informing him of a potential shutdown. The DOE instructed school leaders to ensure that all students, staff, and families have access to technology, curriculum and instructional resources, methods of direct communication, and clear expectations for remote learning. 

Mr. Condon is confident that the school would be well-positioned to close: “Our program and schedule were intentionally designed to facilitate a seamless transition between blended and remote learning,” Mr. Condon stated. “It appears to me that the quality of remote instruction, imperfect as it may be, has increased significantly since the spring as a result of the feedback the school received from families through the PTA and the efforts of our teachers.”

For the almost 97% of students at THHS already committed to learning remotely full time, learning would not change in the case of a temporary school closure. “All our classes have synchronous, virtual instruction, many with live video lessons on Google Meet or Zoom, and all on Google Classroom,” said Assistant Principal of Organization Ellen Fee. 

Just last Thursday, the NYC DOE informed the THHS school community that a member had tested positive for COVID-19, but they were “not at school while infectious.” While the current positivity rate for in-school testing of COVID-19 in Queens is just 0.17%, THHS has had zero positive in-school test results in the school community since the beginning of the fall semester with weekly COVID-19 testing at the school administered by the NYC Department of Health. According to Ms. Fee, with three cohorts of blended students, “it’s only about 1% of our student body in the building at any given time.” 

Today is the deadline for parents to make their final decision on whether to switch their children to hybrid learning or to continue all-remote for the remainder of the school year. The Classic reached out to the DOE for comment concerning the limited opportunity to opt-in to blended learning. They did not respond as of Sunday evening.  

Student Union Secretary Zarif Rahman said that he believes the difficult transition into a fully remote education last spring “helped prepare teachers and going remote again now will be an easier transition.”

“Since the overwhelming majority of our student body is remote, there will not be much of an instructional impact felt,” UFT Chapter Leader Kevin McDonaugh agreed. “It will surely be a disappointment for the small percentage of students who were coming to the building.” 

Although Governor Andrew Cuomo has been vocal about wanting to keep NYC schools open, Mayor Bill de Blasio has continued to promise that schools will be shutting down if the positivity rate reaches 3%. Mr. McDonaugh commented, “If the positivity threshold for school shutdown was stated as 3%, then I think it’s important to stick to that, unless public health professionals believe it is not necessary, and that number can be raised, based upon our greater understanding of the virus; but I am in no position to make such a judgment.”  

Coordinator of Student Activities Sarah Loew acknowledged the low infection rate reported in schools and said, “I understand that the City may need to close schools if the 7-day Citywide average is above 3% because that is part of their response plan. However, I think it would be more important to keep schools open and close unnecessary things like retail stores and indoor dining.” 

“I think the DOE would be making the right decision [in closing schools] as keeping schools open would just add to the increase in the number of cases. Many students have vulnerable family members at home, and keeping everyone safe should remain a top priority,” Zarif explained. 

While students and staff have been equipped for virtual learning, the rise in cases is a concerning trend. “I’d be surprised if we, as a community, are not emotionally and psychologically impacted by this news,” Mr. McDonaugh said. “It is still disappointing, as it is a grim reminder that we still have a ways to go before we are on the other side of this.”