NYC community leaders want a taskforce to address disparities widened by coronavirus school closures

A wide coalition of elected officials, community organizations, and parent leaders are asking for a seat at the table to guide decision-making while schools are closed due to the spread of the coronavirus — and whenever they finally reopen. 

More than 50 people and organizations signed onto a letter sent Tuesday to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, calling for a new COVID-19 task force to address disparities that have been ripped even wider due to the global pandemic.

The signatories include state senators Robert Jackson and Jessica Ramos, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and local Community Education Councils. Others include nonprofits and advocacy groups, including the the Hispanic Federation, NAACP of New York, and IntegrateNYC.

“It’s really about bringing people to the table to highlight all of the areas where inequities are hitting our students and families most severely,” Michelle Yanche, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Services, which signed onto the letter. “We need to address those issues as rapidly as possible.”

Among the asks: free Wi-Fi in public housing and homeless shelters, shifting temporarily to a pass-or-fail grading policy, and withdrawing pending suspension decisions. The signatories also want to see the city provide schools with resources to address mental health issues, especially as Asian students and families may face racism because of the disease. They call for subgroups to be appointed to focus on the needs of students with disabilities and those who are learning English as a new language. 

Vanessa Leung, who helps lead the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, a signatory of the letter, hopes the task force could help inform school policy even after the city recovers from the coronavirus. 

“We definitely think there will be lessons learned from this, in how we address this and how we recover,” she said.  

Read the letter here.