Statement on Premature School Opening

Approved by the CDDSA Executive Committee on 27 July 2020.

The Capital District Democratic Socialists of America strongly opposes the premature opening of New York State public schools in the fall, as outlined by the New York Board of Regents, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Capital District DSA rejects the notion that any threat to the lives and health of our students, staff and faculty represents an “acceptable level of risk.” In the absence of any universally mandated, implemented and federal and state funded safety program, the overwhelming additional costs and administrative burdens placed on individual schools and districts stands as a callous and dangerous abdication of basic governmental responsibility.

Particularly egregious is the state’s inability or unwillingness to provide districts with the mandated personal protection equipment (PPE) and property testing capabilities, or funding for the purpose thereof. Leaving the provisioning of medically necessary supplies to individual schools and districts not only will break already thin public school budgets, but will also all but ensure that underserved, predominantly minority communities, already disproportionately impacted by this crisis, will be left unable to obtain sufficient numbers of vital supplies. Further, the overcrowding of many of these underserved, underfunded, and understaffed schools, often exacerbated by poor ventilation systems, renders social distancing in many buildings virtually impossible. It is simply unacceptable that any school or community in our state should have to suffer these awful consequences on account of its racial, socioeconomic or ethnic identity.

Capital District DSA further objects to the additional obligations and expectations now levied on our already overburdened and underpaid teachers without any corresponding increase in salary, benefits, or necessary pandemic-related protections such as extended paid sick time and personal leave. This gap between added responsibilities and inadequate compensation and protections impacts not only our teachers, but also custodial, food service, social, and administrative workers whose essential jobs may put them and their families at home at greater risk for infection.

Capital District DSA is also concerned with the persistent talking point, meant to serve as an underlying justification for the reopening policy, that young people, particularly elementary-aged students, are less likely to contract the virus, as this notion has been proven counterfactual. Younger students are, in fact, more likely to be asymptomatic carriers rather than simply being immune to the novel coronavirus1. This increased potential for undetected spreading makes any plan for contract tracing untenable and is likely to turn schools into superspreader sites. Moreover the overstated notion of juvenile resistance ignores the multiple cases of young deaths, especially from children with preexisting conditions, as well as the risks an asymptomatic carrier poses to those outside the school, such as in the home or the community at large. Also, no provisions have been made for protection of teachers, students and staff that already are immunocompromised or have other medical issues that increase their vulnerability.

It seems clear that, under the current Regents plan, the most vulnerable among us will once more be the most exposed to harm; harm that is not potential or hypothetical but real, tangible and pressing. Full scale in-class instruction threatens to wind back the minimal gains made by New York State in combating the COVID-19 crisis and puts millions of lives at greater risk in the process2. Capital District DSA proposes a fall plan built around online learning with sufficient state funding allocated to provide student households with adequate internet access necessary for remote education as well as funding for at home lunch subsidies at least equitable to the subsidies offered to students prior to the shutdown of schools in March.

As democratic socialists, we support only solutions that, first and foremost, guarantee the safety and health of our schools and communities and, in doing so, center the needs and interests of working people. If we truly believe our students, teachers, and school staff to be vital to that future, there can be no cut corners or half measures in the maintenance of their wellbeing.

1. Jones, T. C., Mühlemann, B., Veith, T., Biele, G., Zuchowski, M., Hoffmann, J., Stein, A., Edelmann, A., Corman, V. M., Drosten, C. (2020). An analysis of SARS-CoV-2 viral load by patient age. doi:10.1101/2020.06.08.20125484

2. Zhang, J., Litvinova, M., Liang, Y., Wang, Y., Wang, W., Zhao, S., Wu, Q., Merler, S., Viboud, C., Vespignani, A., Ajelli, M., & Yu, H. (2020). Changes in contact patterns shape the dynamics of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Science 368(6498), 1481-1486. doi:10.1126/science.abb8001