Martin Luther School in Maspeth is closing and moving to remote learning as a precautionary step due to the coronavirus outbreak — which comes on the heels of Queens Councilmen Francisco Moya and Robert Holden call to close public schools on Friday, March 13.
James Regan, Martin Luther’s executive director, told QNS that while there are no confirmed cases of the illness in the school, they want to “be proactive” and follow along the footsteps of Christ the King and McClancy High School. He said the private middle and high school, located at 60-02 Maspeth Ave., will be closed until Friday, March 20.
“We will reassess whether to stay closed based on information given to us by the state and local officials,” Regan said.
In the meantime, their middle and high school students will be conducting online classes.
But Councilman Moya, who represents parts of East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Corona, thinks it’s time for Mayor Bill de Blasio to close a select number of public schools throughout each district in NYC, which has the largest school system in the country.
“Kids absorb everything. They see the stores around them closing, sports events getting canceled, their families scrambling to make last-minute arrangements,” Moya said. “Despite this, we expect them to set everything aside when they arrive at school as if it exists in a vacuum, separate from what’s beyond the classroom window. That’s not an environment for academic success and it’s not an environment that will keep them safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“I commend the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson and agree with calling on New York City Department of Education schools to close until further notice,” Holden wrote in a Facebook post. “It is imperative that we stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of our students, teachers, staff and parents.”
Moya and Holden join Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilman Mark Treyger in urging for the city to instead switch to the summer school model, which would allow students to receive meals they might not have access to.
“The responsible decision is to close all but a handful of schools in each district,” Moya said. “These select few schools should remain open for students who rely on services like school meals, medical care for students with certain disabilities and child care for families who depend on it.”
Phil Wong, the president of Community Education Council 24, believes that schools in his district —which includes Corona, Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Long Island City — should “at least close for three to four days in order for them to get thoroughly cleaned.”
While District 24’s Superintendent Madeline Chan says there are no coronavirus cases in the district, Wong questioned how the Department of Education would know if they’re not testing students and teachers.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said each New York City school will have a nurse on campus by next week, according to Chalkbeat, but parents have been advocating for that for years.
Wong also understands that there are many parents and guardians who can’t afford child care or work full time, so a summer school model might prove challenging for them.
“Summer school doesn’t solve the problem of child care, because we still have to have someone home watching the kids,” Wong said. “Day care centers don’t have the capacity either.”
Connie Altamirano, PTA Vice President at Ridgewood’s P.S. 290 and community activist, believes schools should close immediately even though she’s part of the vulnerable community that may struggle with meals and child care.
“As a mother and a community activist, I implore Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to close New York City public schools. If the city of New York has declared a state of emergency, why are we risking the lives of children?” she told QNS.
Altamirano has a child who attends Brooklyn Technical High School, which has more than 6,000 students.
“The conditions this school is in, with 6,000 plus students, is a perfect environment for disease to spread like wildfire,” she said. “All schools have the capability of free apps so students can access their education and learn.”
Altamirano said she’s spoken to teachers and parents in the community who say students are having a hard time learning due to the stress they’re feeling from the pandemic. She thinks that all testing should be put on hold.
“People should not be embarrassed or afraid to tell the school administration if someone has tested positive for coronavirus for the better of our school community,” Altamirano said.
Altamirano thinks that this is a great time for the community to come together and help each other, whether it’d be by helping each other with childcare or meals.
“I hope we as a community will have each other’s backs during these hard times,” she said.
In a press conference Friday afternoon, de Blasio maintained that the city won’t close public schools but will implement “social distancing” measures, like having students eat lunches in their classrooms, to minimize direct contact. There are 154 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon, which rose from 95 that morning.
The DOE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.