New York, Shamefully, on the Verge of Shuttering Public Schools

Just 0.18 percent of randomly tested teachers and students have been positive for COVID-19. So why the hell would you close the schools?


I would have reacted sooner to the news that New York City is planning to shut down its public school system as early as Monday, but there's a small kindergarten class in my house today, and I have a bunch of parent-teacher Zoom meetings scheduled for the middle school that my eldest has attended all of seven days this year.

It is hard, as a public school parent, to keep up even with the daily juggle of emails, remote meetings, classwork verification pictures, and alarmingly vague Department of Education "situation room" alerts, let alone have enough spare time to vent outrage at the feckless, child-mangling, "science"-defacing idiocrats whimsically ruining an entire year for hundreds of thousands of families. So let me throw out some contextual bullet points to ponder—nay, marvel at—as the nation blunders toward a second lockdown.

  • Over the past month, the New York City school system has randomly tested more than 71,000 students and 42,000 staff, from 3,000-plus schools. Only 189 came back positive. That's a rate of 0.18 percent. As predicted by those who actually follow the science rather than use the word like a get-out-of-logic-free card, schools have not been vectors for spreading COVID-19. As New York Times education reporter Eliza Shapiro noted, "one of the city's top health officials has declared that the public schools are among the safest public places around."
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio is getting ready to pull the plug because the city's test positivity rate, which had been hovering around or below 1.5 percent since June, shot up over 2 percent at the beginning of November, and will soon cross 3 percent, which is de Blasio's threshold for shutting schools down. How did he arrive at that number? He pulled it out of his ass.

    The World Health Organization recommends a 5 percent community positivity threshold before closing schools, as does New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Europe is keeping schools open with rates well north of that, citing the still-very-low numbers of kids testing positive. The only reason de Blasio came up with such an artificially low number is that it was the best this dolt could do in negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers. As Reason Foundation Director of School Choice Corey A. DeAngelis has documented, the single biggest factor in determining whether a school system opens its doors is not the underlying COVID-19 rate but the comparative power of the relevant teachers union. Just follow the science!

  • You know what'll still be open when the 3 percent trigger shuts down the in-person education option for 900,000 kids? Day care centers. And private schools. So strange that the public school system is losing whole swaths of the population! It's hard to imagine a better advertisement for education provided by non-governmental means.

Speaking of which: Through all of this comedy of errors, the political and educational establishment in New York is still cloaking its decision-making process in the exalted language of equity, inclusion, and combating privilege. There is no gentle way to say this: The people who are about to shutter New York schools should never mouth those words again. It is the comparatively disadvantaged—the poor, the broken-familied, the kids with special needs—who are hammered hardest by the disruptive, logistically caddywhompus, alienating, and educationally piss-poor system of remote learning.

My family will adapt. (Hey look, the 5-year-olds are learning French five feet away from me!) But most do not have my options. I do not want to hear one word about my "privilege" again from the people who are consciously making the anti-scientific, politically driven decision to deny basic equitable opportunity for poorer families. You people should be ashamed of yourselves, and in a just world would be driven far away from public life.