Parents from long-shuttered NYC schools warn: Get ready for tears and stress

Parents in Forest Hills protest Governor Andrew Cuomo’s school closures, on Oct. 7, 2020. 
Parents in Forest Hills protest Governor Andrew Cuomo’s school closures, on Oct. 7, 2020.  (Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

This story was originally published on Nov. 18 by THE CITY.

Eli Alhonote has only attended one day of in-person kindergarten at Brooklyn’s P.S. 197 since the school year began.

The 5-year-old’s Midwood school, known as Kings Highway Academy, is among dozens Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed in early October as COVID cases surged in what the state labeled red and orange zones.

Of those, 21 school buildings have remained shut ever since, despite being cleared by the state three weeks ago to reopen if all students and staff got tested before returning.

Parents of kids at these Brooklyn schools have spent more than a month in the scramble that families citywide now face with the sudden shutdown of in-person learning by Mayor Bill de Blasio after the citywide positive coronavirus test rate hit 3% in the past week.

They share stories of stress, struggle, disappointment, tears — and above all frustration about the constant uncertainty about when or if their kids will get back into a classroom.

Jocelyn Gross Alhonote, Eli’s mother, has been juggling working full-time and teaching him how to read and write since his second day of kindergarten.

She even has a group chat with other parents that she refers to as the “adventures and mishaps of trying to teach your child at home.”

“He’s learning how to write letters while there are maybe 12 to 13 people on the screen not on mute,” said Alhonote. “There are babies crying, dogs barking, children talking and I have to basically answer emails from work while trying to help a 5-year-old learn how to read!”

Alhonote said she was told that Eli’s classroom was big enough to safely hold 14 people while abiding by social distancing guidelines. With only six children signed up for hybrid instruction in Eli’s class, she still doesn’t understand why the students were barred from classroom learning.

“It felt a bit unfair that we got shut down,” she said. “Our family was abiding by it and I’m sure a lot of others were.”

‘No End in Sight’

Students at P.S. 207 in Marine Park had been preparing for in-person learning to start back up Thursday when word of the citywide shutdown arrived Wednesday.

One P.S. 207 mother dreaded breaking the news to her two daughters who had been excited to get back in the classroom after weeks at home. Upon hearing they wouldn’t be reuniting with their classmates in person, the two girls, aged 5 and 7, burst into tears.

“They were so happy to go back,” said their mother, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her family’s privacy. “The kids on my block were screaming for joy when it opened back up only to be shut down again. It’s just very disheartening with no end in sight.”

At P.S. 216 Arturo Toscanini in Gravesend, another Brooklyn neighborhood deemed a hot spot in October, the story is the same.

Like Eli, Aleksandr Krymskiy’s sons, fourth-grader Benjamin and second-grader Aaron, have been remote learning since March, aside from one day of in-person learning in September.

Krymskiy describes working remotely full-time and teaching two boys as a single parent in one word: “Oooof.”

“It’s been tough,” he said. “It’s definitely a big burn out. It’s an enormous effort to keep them focused, help them with individual assignments, scan, print, explain, deal with tantrums, and also not lose any of our minds.”

‘Sort of Looking Up’

While Krymskiy is behind on his work tasks, he believes his sons are gaining some valuable skills as a result of online learning — even if they are missing out academically.

The two boys now know their way around a scanner, an email inbox, and Microsoft Office, he said. They’ve also been helping out their dad with washing dishes, sweeping and vacuuming.

Still, Krymskiy noted, the stress is taking a toll on him.

“I am definitely putting my best effort into getting this done and I am not giving up or even complaining really,” he said. “But it just feels like losing steam, even though with the election and vaccine on the horizon, it’s sort of looking up.”

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