Monday, August 10, 2020

Mayor de Blasio, Public Schools Chancellor Carranza, and Deputy Chancellor Conyers Discuss Public School Plan, and COVID-19


  Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well, good morning, everybody. And as I'm sure so many of you have heard, and we're going to talk today about our kids, our schools, our parents, our families, because it's official, the State of New York has cleared a New York City public schools to start in September. So, we are getting ready every single day. We're going to talk to you today about all the preparations being made to keep people healthy and safe, to make sure we can educate our kids as best possible under the toughest conditions, but so many good people are working overtime to get ready for the beginning of the school to serve well over 700,000 students who will be joining us at least part of the week in-person. And we're going to go over the details of that plan in just a moment, but first we've got an immediate situation we should talk about for a moment, and that's the heat advisory that will be in effect today. So, the hot weather is back, and I say to everyone – pay attention to mother nature, respect mother nature, take these advisories seriously. So, today, we expect heat index values up to 97 degrees. And this heat advisory will be in effect today through Wednesday evening. So, we have three days of it. And the message, as always, stay safe, stay cool. Take the steps to protect yourself, particularly if you are vulnerable. So, City cooling centers will be open across all five boroughs, starting at noon today. We will have cooling buses available to provide additional relief. We're going to make sure when people come to a cooling center that we deal with the other challenges we face. So, there will be social distancing, there will be face coverings. Anyone to needs place to get to that is cool today, tomorrow, Wednesday, you can go online, or, of course, call 3-1-1.


The Cool Streets initiative will also be open today. And it's very important to know, great alternative for families and kids to get out there, there’s sprinklers, there's other cooling options. And then, lastly, as I say every time, New Yorkers are good compassionate people, look out for your neighbors. If there's someone in your building, if there's someone on your block you know as vulnerable, a senior or someone else who might need some extra help and checking in during the hot weather, please look out for them.


Okay. Now, let's talk about schools. I have to tell you, I've said this for years, I feel it deep in my heart, not just as mayor, I feel as a parent – first day of school is a magical day and there's an incredible sense of renewal and energy and possibility each year as school begins. Again, it’s literally maybe my favorite day of the year, but I think for a lot of kids, a lot of families, a lot of parents, it's an extraordinary day. This year is going to be different. We all know it. And I'm going to say it now and I'll say it a lot of times in the coming months, we are up against a challenge, but it's not a challenge that's going to go on forever. At some point, likely in the course of this school year, there will be a vaccine. That vaccine will be administered to kids and families all over New York City, and then we can start getting back to something more normal. But for the foreseeable future, it's going to be a very different kind of school year, but it does not take away the excitement, the energy, the possibility, and the meaning for our kids. Our kids have been yearning to reconnect with school, with their friends, with so many teachers and other mentors they depend on. We're going to do it differently. It's going to feel very different, smell it, look very different – focus on face coverings for all kids and adults, social distancing at all times, constant cleaning. There's a lot of things that will change, but what will not change is our fundamental commitment to our children. And our educators, our school staff every day, every year, that's their commitment. No matter what times we're in, they focus on the safety of kids, they focus on the wellbeing of kids, they focus on the development of kids and the education of our children. That's what they do for a living. That's the path they chose in life. And I want to just thank our educators and everyone who works in our school buildings. It doesn't matter if you work in the cafeteria or you're a custodian – whoever you are, you contribute to that school community and you care about kids. People made the choice to go into that field because they believe in you people, they want to help them. And young people need those positive adult role models and that support and they're finally going to get it again as school comes back. Now, if you look around the country, you see a challenging situation. I am the first to acknowledge it. And if you look at what's happening in other places, it probably causes you a certain amount of concern and a certain amount of doubt. But we're not those other places. I feel for them. I hope and pray that their situation improves soon, but we're not those other places. New York City is different. Everyone around the country can see how different New York City is. In New York City, we have proven that we could beat back this disease now for a fully two months, and we're going to keep doing it. In New York City, the virus rate has been under three percent for two months running, extraordinarily low. In New York City, over 700,000 kids are planning to come back as soon as school begins. We're different and we're ready. So, we're the only major school district in America – the only major urban school district planning for in-person classes this fall. And look, we've been very clear – we must do it safely, we can do it safely. We've set very stringent standards. We have to meet those standards. If at any point the situation changes, I'll be the first to say it. But so long as we can meet those standards, we're going to be ready to serve our kids in September.


Now, I want to speak as a parent. I know for the entire time our kids were growing up, for Chirlane and I, literally most important thing every single day was the health and safety of our kids. I know every parent is thinking that. As a parent, we’re moving forward. I can tell you I've given the order to move forward only if we can do it safely and effectively in a way that keeps our kids healthy. I know we can. I've seen the preparations, they are outstanding, and we are going to keep doing that work. We've got a whole month before school begins and we are going to keep doing that work every single day. Now, we talked about a survey we did of parents weeks ago, and we said roughly a three-quarters of our parents wanted their kids back in school. Well, now, we gave parents a very specific opportunity to decide, did they want to opt out in the first instance and have their kids do remote. The facts now, based on the actual opportunity for parents to make a decision came back almost exactly the same as our survey, striking consistency. And now we know 74 percent of our students planning to participate in in-person learning, blended learning, starting next month. A lot to do, and I'm going to turn to the Chancellor with tremendous gratitude to him and his team. They have been working endlessly since March to get ready the schools in a way they know is safe. Everyone involved, thinking about health and safety all the time. And we're asking them to do a massive logistical task, but every step along the way people have said we can do this. And with that great spirit, we're moving forward.


So, I want to thank you, Chancellor, and would welcome your update.


Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. So, I know that every family wants the best for their child. They want their kids to be safe. They want them to be healthy. They want them to be happy. And they want their children to always be learning and growing and getting to getting ready to take on the world. Our schools play such an important role in that, especially now when our children of our city have been through so, so much. For us, health and safety leads the way always, first and foremost. Our vision for the fall is a safe, strong, and supportive learning environment and an excellent education for every one of our students. Schools will be in session five days per week. Students will be learning five days per week, no matter where they are. We know a lot more now about how that's going to work because healthy and safe in-person learning means knowing how many people we need to plan for in buildings. We know that nearly three-quarters of our students, over 700,000, will begin the school year in a blended learning mode. This means that they’ll learn in-person in a school building part of the school week and continue learning remotely from home for the rest of the week. As the Mayor indicated, as of now, 26 percent of our families will begin the year in fully remote learning mode. This is consistent with what families told us earlier in the year about their preferences. Additionally, we know that, as of now, we can expect about 85 percent of our teacher workforce or about 66,000 educators to be teaching in a blended mode as well. About 15 percent of our teachers have requested a reasonable accommodation to work from home. Those who are granted that accommodation will exclusively teach remotely, but they are – they will still be engaged and devoted as ever to educating the children of New York City, because that's who they are. These are educators who, in a matter of days, completely transformed teaching in the biggest school district in the country back in March. They have grit, they have compassion, and a dedication to their students that amazes me every single day.


With all this information at hand, we continue to develop school level plans for every public school in New York City, the nation's largest school system, and that is thanks to the tireless work of our principals. Each one of our principals is blazing an entirely new path for their schools, leading teams of fellow dedicated professionals, hustling all summer to make sure that families are on track to get the information that they need. To all of our families and students and all of New Yorkers, I want to say, thank you. It's been your hard work that has made it even possible for us to consider in-person learning. You continue to show what it means to persevere, to keep your eye on the prize, and serving the young people who not long from now will be the ones that will be leading our city.


Mr. Mayor?


Mayor: Thank you so much, Chancellor. So, so much work going into getting ready for next month. And what I have seen day-in and day-out is an extraordinary team at Department of Education. These are folks who have devoted their whole lives to kids. And today, we're going to introduce a newly christened member of the team in a new role, but he is not new to the DOE in any way, shape, or form. In fact, started out from the very beginning of his education as a kindergartener at PS 31 in the South Bronx, has worked his way up over 37 years in the Department of Education. So, talk about a homegrown talent – my pleasure to introduce our new First Deputy Chancellor Donald Conyers. Welcome and congratulations, Donald.


First Deputy Chancellor Donald Conyers, Department of Education: Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor. It's an honor to be here this morning. When I began my experience in New York City public schools in 1968 as a kindergartener at a Public School 31, I could not know that I would be 52 years later having the opportunity to serve all of the schools as First Deputy Chancellor. That morning in 1968, my mother, who was also a New York City public school teacher sent me into the classroom and it changed the course of my life. By the time I graduated from Beach Channel High School in the Rockaways in 1979, public school had already shaped who I am both in my experiences as a student and in the powerful form of my mother. I'm a mama's boy and always have been. My story is emblematic of what public schools can provide for children – opportunity, pure and simple. It has been a change factor for me and my entire family. Education is the key to advancement, and my entire career has been about ensuring that the children and other families reap its benefits too. I left the Department of Education for four years to go to college and returned in 1983 and began my service to the system that has served me so very well. My career, as the Mayor indicated, 37 years so far began as a special education teacher in Midwood, Brooklyn. Then it was back to the Bronx, as an assistant principal, and the principal, and then a superintendent – all before coming to central and toting that wealth of experience with me, all tied to learning leadership and achievement.


The First Deputy Chancellor's job is to execute the Chancellor's vision and to help make our schools the best that they can be. The job is to be the connective tissue that links every school to the things that they need from our superintendents, executive superintendents, and central offices. My job is to guide challenge and support our principals and schools just as I was challenged, guided, and supported. I'm still in touch with my elementary school principal, Carol Russo, and my 10th grade geometry teacher, Donna Davis. I talked to my mother, affectionately known as Molly, who's now retired for more than 30 years as an educator. I talk to her every week. Through them, I learned that every – that you can believe in people to make everything better. That is why I'm here for our children today. And I thank you, again, Mr. Mayor, for the opportunity.


Mayor: Thank you so much, Donald. Congratulations. And I want to give a shout out to your mom – mom, you’ve done good with Donald. And also, your teachers way back when, who you're still in touch with – I love that story. And this is what New York City public schools are all about, that sense of connection that people feel, that sense of every kid being special and every kid being precious – that's what we're going to start again with a lot of energy and passion next month. So, thank you. And congratulations.


Now, let me turn to a very different topic, but also right in the front of our minds, because as much as every New Yorker absolutely should feel proud of our response to the coronavirus and the fact that this city has led the way in the nation in coming back, we have so often been on our own and we should not be happy about that, and I know no one is. Why has New York City had to so often fight it alone, go it alone? Because our federal government hasn't been there. The federal government hasn't been there from the very beginning. And now, as we are facing these huge challenges, huge economic problems, budget problems, once again, the federal government is failing to get the job done. So, while the stimulus talks are stalled in Washington, we are going to keep going. And we're going to turn to our colleagues in Albany and talk about the things that will help New York City to move forward, keep the services for people all over the city that we depend on. Every New Yorker depends on the City government to serve them every single day. We’ve got to keep that going. We’ve got to keep our public employees on their jobs. And to do that, we need the State of New York to help us with a long-term borrowing plan – a fiscally responsible, smart plan that will help us bridge this moment in history. By the way, it happened before, right after 9/11 – the State Legislature urgently, immediately gave New York City that borrowing authority so New York City could keep moving forward. And that's exactly what happened. In fact, the city came back stronger than ever. That is what is going to happen again in the coming years, if we get that help and support. So, again, let's work together to bridge this moment in time and come back stronger.


Let’s talk about our daily indicators now. Number one, daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19, that threshold is 200 patients – and today's report, 53. Number two, daily number of people in Health + Hospitals, ICU threshold 375 – today, 285. And number three, percentage of people testing positive citywide for COVID-19, threshold, 15 percent – today's report, excellent, one percent. Once again, New Yorkers keep showing toughness and resolve to beat back this disease.

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