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Janelle Bradshaw is the CEO of Public Prep.

      Keeping Schools Open

      Janelle Bradshaw | November 25, 2020

      Why 3%? Why not prioritize schools? Why does equity in education take a back seat, yet again? As CEO of Public Prep, responsible for 2,200 scholars, these are the questions that need to be answered. I am proud that our network has demonstrated that our commitment to safety and our mission to provide a warm and joyful culture of rigor can coexist. We have been one of the fighting few public charter schools to offer in-person learning for our scholars 4 days a week prior to the Mayor shutting down schools on November 18. As a parent of a scholar at our Girls Prep Bronx Elementary campus, I share in families’ collective frustration regarding the city’s closure threshold.

      On Wednesday November 18, Mayor de Blasio closed all NYC DOE schools—where four of our six campuses share DOE space —because the 7-day rolling infection rate was about 3%. Rather than closing indoor dining and gyms, this decision was a clear example of the lack of prioritization of education. 

      Was there any science behind the arbitrary threshold? Seems not to be the case. School closures should not be based on a threshold that no longer reflects the most up to date science and data but an apparent deal made between the mayor and the teacher’s union. At every turn of this virus, we learn more. We know so much more now than we did when we first closed schools down in March. We look to our leaders to take these learnings and use them to support us. At Public Prep, our thinking about remote learning evolved over time and so our teaching did as well. We expect that as the Mayor has learned more since he established this arbitrary 3% threshold over the summer, he would evolve his thinking as well. The city should be following the state-wide microcluster zone mandate, which would geographically isolate school closures based on infection rate, limiting the amount of widespread disruption for families. 

      What We Know 

      Schools can open safely. Public Prep Academies has had a successful reopening for 827 scholars beginning on 10/8. Following an intentional phase-in plan to ensure fidelity to our safety protocols and procedures, 37% of our school community has been receiving 4 days of in-person instruction weekly. As educators, we know the stakes are high to provide this option for families. 

      Schools are not where COVID-19 is spreading. While the uptick in infection rates across select areas of the cities is on the rise, the positivity rate in schools is reported at 0.18%, proving that schools are not the place where the infection is spreading. Here at Public Prep, our staff are getting tested weekly, and we have rolled out an innovative testing plan on site to support staff and scholars. 

      Schools have closure processes in place to minimize disruption of learning. We know we can mitigate but not eliminate a positive COVID-19 case within our community. Preparation, transparency and clear procedures are all necessary aspects of our school closure and communication plan to help reduce the fear and confusion. 

      Schools that are providing an in-person option are promoting equity in education. Public Prep Academies were founded on the belief that parents should be able to CHOOSE a high-quality education for their children. This definition has shifted amidst the COVID pandemic, and now it is critical that our parents have the option to send their scholars in-person, if deemed safe to do so, as so many private schools across the city are able to do.

      It is critical that we remain focused on providing a high quality education for all scholars—for those who choose 100% remote, as well as those who opt to come in person. We are distracted by this focus, though, when schools are required to unnecessarily close. We have proven that we can keep schools open in a safe manner, and the criteria for closure needs to be reevaluated as a result.

      Adjust the 3% city wide threshold. Prioritize Schools. Equity in Education at the Forefront.

      Janelle Bradshaw, CEO