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    Open more classrooms, close everything else

    How about this: Let’s not close schools in the face of rising infection rates, which may soon hit the 3% threshold that Mayor de Blasio earlier said would trigger a shutdown of the system. Instead, let’s open more classrooms to make it safe and welcoming for even more students to participate in-person learning. And let’s close everything else.

    I’m the founder and board president of a theater in Manhattan. My father produces plays. My mother and sister sell tickets to entertainment and sporting events. I’ve built a national network of community events that take place in bars and cafes. My wife runs her own birth and labor education business with small in-person classes. Many of my friends run restaurants, hustle as servers, work backstage and head into creative offices where they collaborate in person with colleagues.


    And I’d hit pause on all of that if it meant that our schools could stay open and open even wider for the students of New York City who have already lost so much in this pandemic and are about to be asked to sacrifice more.

    As a parent with three children in elementary school, attending two days a week, and a leader in the District 15 Presidents Council in Brooklyn, I’ve seen firsthand how hard our teachers, staff and administrators have worked to successfully make in-person school safe, welcoming and enriching for our kids. It doesn’t look like “school” how we think of it — but it’s worked.

    Parents and students are seen waiting outside the Roberto Clemente School - PS 15 on E. 4th Street in Manhattan on September 29.
    Parents and students are seen waiting outside the Roberto Clemente School - PS 15 on E. 4th Street in Manhattan on September 29. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

    I’ve seen how much it has meant to kids, mine and others, to have this essential experience. The chance to relate to an adult who isn’t your relative, to interact with other kids, and to have social-emotional development as well as academic progress that’s not in front of a screen or within the four walls of your tight New York apartment are fundamentally healthy. It’s an opportunity we should ensure more families, not fewer, feel safe in creating for their children.

    Which is why the report that New York’s schools are on the brink of closing in-person learning has sparked despondent frustration in me. Studies have shown that schools are not driving this terrifying surge, but students are about to pay the price for an unprecedented pandemic, failed federal response, and a misplaced sense of local and state priorities.

    Schools are essential — and we should be marshaling our resources and mobilizing our city behind a vision of how to open those schools, support our educators, as well as invest in a richer experience for the kids learning remotely.

    What could that look like? Treating schools like an essential service for which we’d close down other parts of our economy, including the businesses and enterprises that make this a vibrant and joyful city. Treating teachers like essential workers who are given the resources and protection to educate our children. Using under-utilized spaces to create more classrooms — the same way cities have created field hospitals — to allow more students to regularly meet in safe, small-group settings.

    Setting up a corps of teaching aides to funnel more creative, people-power into this effort. Negotiating with and demanding corporate partners to provide suitable technology and high-speed internet for all our at-home learners because not everyone will return to classrooms during a pandemic. And prioritizing in-person learning for early learners, kids with special needs and students from vulnerable communities so they have the high-quality, face-to-face instruction they need and the associated services that come with it, while investing in more robust, engaging at-home curriculum for older students or kids whose parents choose remote-only.

    This will also require thoughtful support for the small businesses, entertainment, hospitality, nightlife and culture industries, and countless employees that are already being impacted. We need dramatic measures on the federal, state and city level to cancel their rents, provide their health care, back-up their paychecks — and ensure these businesses are there to meet us on the other side of this pandemic.

    Many of us hope the new administration in Washington will take the examples of the New Deal and the moonshot to shape its ambitions. We should demand the same from our city and state leadership — a clear vision and the focus to marshal the resources and mobilize the participation of the entire city.

    It will take sacrifice. But let’s not make our kids' experience the thing we sacrifice first.

    Krebs is a political organizer, board chair of The Tank theater, and secretary of the District 15 Presidents’ Council.

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