Promoting quality education for all.

How School Reopenings Disproportionately Impact Low-Income Students: New York

Shruti Nallappa, Fellow at GCE-US, 

As the world continues to battle this COVID-19 pandemic, students all over the world remain out of schools, are distance learning, or will never return to school again. Many leaders have chosen to ignore the deadly virus or are under the impression that the spread of COVID-19 has gotten better – therefore, it is safe to open schools. In other parts of the globe, schools have been able to implement all necessary safety measures needed to protect everyone and still provide safe and quality learning.  

As of Thursday, August 20, 2020, the U.S. death toll has reached over 174,000 and continues to rise. Many states are opening up businesses too early and thousands of people continue to reject safety protocols including wearing masks and social distancing. On Thursday, July 9, 2020, the Department of Education (DOE) released the preliminary outlines of a plan for how schools will function in the fall in the state of New York. DOE officials have determined that in order to maintain proper social distancing, a range of 9-12 students per classroom will be allowed and vary depending on the size of the classroom. 

In places like New York City, however, 275,000+ students attend schools with 30+ students per class. 55,000+ students attend schools with 34+ students per class. The challenges posed by COVID-19 have worsened by the chronic overcrowding of New York City public schools, in which 515,000 students attend schools of 101% capacity or more. Schools in New York City are currently trying to squeeze in as many students as possible into small classrooms. In order to accommodate social distancing guidelines, large classes have to be split into two, three, or even four different groups that take turns with in-person instruction while the rest learn remotely. The larger a class is, the less of its students will be allowed the opportunity of attending class in-person.  

What will working parents and caregivers do? DOE guidelines also have the potential to make the jobs of working parents harder. Moving to a remote learning, school “rotation” plan will significantly disadvantage students with working parents and technological difficulties (lack of equipment, wi-fi, etc.). Multiple-income and affluent families will be able to afford better educational opportunity while using disposable income to pay for better opportunities for their children. With schools and in-person learning being more inaccessible now than ever before, gaps based on socio-economic status and race are even more disparate.  

Prior to the pandemic, the New York City class size had a negative impact on academic successes. The class size adjustments were made due to underfunded schools often responding to budget cuts by increasing the number of students per class. Statistically, Black students are far more likely than White students to go to these large schools with classes much larger than average. COVID-19 has not created these wealth and racial inequities, but rather revealed and exacerbated them.  

In order to ensure quality and equitable learning for all, here are three possible solutions that we as advocates can call into action: 

  1. We must create and advocate for equity-based reopening plans. This includes safety, equity, and making access to school a priority.  
  2. Ensure that quality teachers are provided while simultaneously reducing teacher burn-out. Free training for new educators must be available so that such educators can be placed in title 1 schools. 
  3. Combat existing inequalities and develop anti-racist practices. 

Together, let us work to make sure that no child is left behind and that education is accessible for all. 







Courtesy of Noam Galai/Getty Images 

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