New York City is the country’s largest school district, with more than 1.1 million students at 1,800 schools, taught by approximately 75,000 teachers. The schools alone hold more people than many substantial cities around the world. And they were supposed to go back to class in the second week of September, while New York City is still seeing more than 300 new diagnosed cases of COVID-19 per day. Small wonder that teachers turned out, en masse, to protest the start of in-person classes.

The school district gave parents a choice: students could either attend in-person classes on a reduced schedule or take entirely remote classes if they don’t feel safe. But according to the teachers’ union, teachers and other school staff weren’t given any such choice. They’ll be required to lead in-person classes unless they qualify for a medical exemption or can afford to take unpaid leave and risk being replaced in their position.

The push for in-person classes seems to be coming mostly from above. New York City officials are pushing the idea that with the currently low rates, schools can be reopened safely with strict safety precautions. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged that schools will be given all the protective equipment they need, along with actual nurses to be assigned to each school. Farther up the chain, the White House has been using the CDC to insist that the shortfalls of online education are worse than the risk of the pandemic.

But New York City’s teachers don’t feel that the risks are being honestly managed. They point to old, poorly ventilated schoolrooms as adding to the threat level, and say the promised supplies still haven’t arrived, with only a week left to go.

Protests erupted all over the city as Back to School loomed nearer, with teachers carrying skeletons and coffins bearing their own names to make a point. And when the teachers’ union threatened a city-wide strike on the matter, de Blasio and the New York City Department of Education agreed to delay the start of in-person classes a further ten days, to September 21.

Photo: The United Federation of Teachers, Black Lives Matter, and other groups participated in a National Day of Resistance to protest for demands including no reopening of schools, police-free schools, and equitable funding for all schools. Credit: Ron Adar /