Why not offer a distance option for school?
At the start of the pandemic last year, two of Ruth Horry’s three children fell ill with Covid – one of them, only 5, terribly, with a fever that raged for days and required hospitalization . “It got to the point where she was 105 and was shaking and we couldn’t even get in a cab,” Ms. Horry told me. “They wouldn’t take us. She was coughing and people were afraid; it was a time when everyone basically carried garbage bags.
When the vaccines became available, Ms. Horry was vaccinated despite considerable anxiety. “When I went to get mine, I cried in the chair because I was so scared,” she said. Slow to follow her second, she finally moved forward. Her older children, one in college and the other 15, were also vaccinated, but these events did not go smoothly either.
The father of Mrs. Horry’s middle child, having succumbed to the fallacies sown by the Internet, did not want their daughter to be vaccinated and got angry. This was just another example of what she saw in Brownsville in Brooklyn, where she lived and worked: families in conflict over very different approaches to the pandemic in a place where the devastation caused by Covid had never equal to the fear and mistrust surrounding efforts to curb and prevent it.
Like other low-income communities of color in New York City, Brownsville has a low vaccination rate, one of the lowest in the city. In July, the city introduced various incentives and continued to publicize others, in what immediately appeared to be an unfortunate effort to reverse that trend – incentives that included $ 100 prepaid debit cards, permits ferry pass and a membership to the Public Theater. (Terrified of the unknown? How about a few hours of Sam Shepard? For free!)
Rates of fully vaccinated people have increased slightly in Brownsville and other demographically similar neighborhoods, but still only stand at around 40%, which is comparable to rates in places like Idaho and Virginia- Western. When I spoke with community leaders in Brownsville in early summer, they were put off by condescending what looked like whimsical opportunity drills, predicting they would fail. A Boston University School of Medicine study that examined the effectiveness of Ohio’s “Vax-a-Million” lottery campaign found that, in fact, money had little influence. Deploying fame doesn’t seem to move the dial in any significant way, either. On a recent afternoon, Charles Barkley led a vaccination campaign at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, in which around 100 people received vaccines.
From the start, public health officials in New York and other cities have professed a mantra of involving those with deep roots in communities to convince skeptics that the vaccine is safe. But what if these leaders themselves are among the skeptics? As a United for Brownsville employee and volunteer for the organization, a cooperative that connects families in the community with the services they need, Ms. Horry has exhausted herself trying to bring in resistance fighters. Many of the organization’s Family Advisory Board, of which she is a member, are themselves not vaccinated, she told me.
“I’m African American – I know fear, I have it,” she said. “I saw the freezer trucks. I was standing next to the freezer trucks. And people have told me that the trucks are a myth, ” added Ms Horry, referring to the mobile mortuaries which have become one of the darkest symbols of the first phase of the pandemic. “I am very passionate. I can change people’s minds. I can at least get you to agree to disagree. I am not a dancer. I am not a singer. But I’m smart and I’m good with words, and now I’m lost for words.
She listened to people telling her they would quit their jobs if their bosses ordered the vaccine. “I know there are teenagers who want to get it, but their parents don’t want it,” she said. “They’re on TikTok and they see people they trust telling them to get it.”
All these tensions have escalated around the imminent return to school. Mayor Bill de Blasio has remained firm that the city will not be offering a remote option this year, although many parents of young children not yet eligible for vaccination would like to see one. Perhaps unpredictably, Success Academy, the charter network not known for its willingness to appease, offers a remote option until October. Some parents seek to leave the public education system altogether and home school their children.
Even parents of immune teens worry about the current environment. A mother, Dionne Grayman, who runs a women’s health organization in Brownsville, told me she was concerned about her daughter’s commute from Brownsville to LaGuardia High School on the Upper West Side, not because she was afraid of transmission in class, but because the long metro running at rush hour posed sufficient risk, she felt, both as a Covid incubator and as a space for growing crime.
Given that it may be impossible to convince a large faction of those who oppose vaccination to get vaccinated, and given the growing likelihood of catastrophic weather conditions disrupting ordinary life, it would make sense for school systems Municipalities are fine-tuning distance learning to the highest standards, so that it can be deployed when needed, not as a crutch but rather as a sort of emergency vehicle.
Children obviously learn best in physical classes, but they learn absolutely nothing if they don’t show up at all. And as one Brownsville parent predicted, the city could easily see an increase in child welfare office educational neglect when parents simply stop sending their children to school. According to Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, neuroscientist and public school parent who has criticized the Ministry of Education’s handling of Covid, a boycott is already planned for the first day of school.