New York City schools are closed, and tens of thousands of parents have been thrust back into homeschooling on the fly. It’s a recipe for educational stagnation and emotional deterioration, and it’s going to hit the city’s most vulnerable families the hardest. 

My wife and I have been homeschooling our three children in New York City for more than six years. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that, even in the best of circumstances, educating your children at home is not for the faint of heart. And nobody has to tell New York parents these are not the best of circumstances. 

What’s so troubling about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to close city schools again this week is that it shows a shocking ignorance of, or willful disregard for, the hardships he’s piling onto the families he was elected to serve. 

Back in March, closing schools may have been a prudent move, as we understood little about the novel coronavirus and its effect on children. But with the benefit of time, we’re observing some important trends, one encouraging and the other deeply disturbing. 

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The good news is that children don’t appear to be at high risk of falling severely ill from or spreading COVID. So far, from a physical health perspective, they’ve come through the pandemic very well. The bad news is that children appear to be at high risk of suffering significant educational and mental health setbacks when they’re kept out of school. 

Those two realities should drastically raise the bar for any decision to shut down schools. But they haven’t in New York City. Parents were told that a 3% positivity rate for COVID tests in city would trigger a school shutdown. And it did, even though, reportedly, the positivity rate among teachers and students is a mere 0.23%.  

Nobody has been able to explain to parents what’s magic about a 3% positivity rate, especially when the threshold for the rest of New York is 9%. And it’s an absurd double-standard to close schools—which have proven effective at keeping COVID from spreading—while leaving bars, gyms, and restaurants open.

But it’s easy for parents to understand why rashly entering another widescale experiment in involuntary homeschooling is a mistake. 

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Homeschooling is an emotionally, physically, and relationally taxing job. Even families that have made the carefully considered decision to have one parent leave the labor force and dedicate themselves to educating their children know how difficult it is to master curriculum, teach it, keep the children on task, and provide social connections.

New York City has thrown all of this onto parents who are holding on—and in many cases holding on for dear life—to full time jobs, and who simply haven’t had the time or energy to prepare themselves to tackle the bulk of their child’s learning needs. 

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Now add to this unstable mix the challenges facing economically vulnerable families, from the lack of reliable Internet service, to the lack of technology needed to interface with teachers, to the simple lack of quiet space a one or two bedroom apartment.

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When multiple children are trying to share devices in a crowded and noisy room, conflict is inevitable, and learning is nearly impossible. Parents are left feeling despondent, doing what little they can to pick up a curriculum for which they’ve had no training and almost zero time to prepare.

Hundreds of thousands of families have built lives and livelihoods that rely on New York City Public Schools providing in-person education. Perhaps in light of COVID some will re-examine that choice down the road, but they and their children don’t have that luxury right now.  

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One of the reasons we chose to homeschool was because we were skeptical that New York’s political leaders would put the educational needs of our children first. Sadly, the mayor’s decision to close city schools again this week only confirms our instincts.

Take it from a dedicated homeschooler: New York City needs its classrooms. 

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