Dear Achievement First New York Families--
We are writing today to provide an update on our reopening plans for our schools in New York. Based on recent COVID case counts and frequent NYCDOE facility closures, we will NOT reopen our schools for in-person learning on April 19; instead, our schools in New York will remain 100% remote through the remainder of the 20-21 School Year.
This is an important decision, and not one that we took lightly. All through the pandemic, we have prioritized the safety of our community and meeting the needs of our students and families. This painful decision, like all others, is grounded in these priorities.
Aligned to our safety priority, we worked this winter with public health experts to establish clear criteria that we would use to make reopening decisions. We said that we will reopen schools for in-person learning if the weighted average positivity rate of COVID-19 in our communities is less than 5%. As of today, April 5, the weighted average for our communities in Brooklyn is 6.84%. While cases were declining in February, they have now been rising again for several weeks. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the devastating impacts this virus has had on our communities - and, sadly, that disparate impact continues. While we are deeply heartened by the development of a safe and effective vaccine, the new, more contagious variants pose a new risk.
Another deciding factor for us was that, even if we did open, we believe many of our schools would experience last-minute, prolonged closures due to current NYCDOE quarantine policies. While multi-layered safety protocols (mask wearing, social distancing, handwashing, regular testing, and others) can be powerful in stopping the spread of the virus within schools, we have seen from schools that are open that the virus still enters school buildings from the outside when community spread is as high as it is now. Many of our co-located schools have opened for a handful of days only to announce at the last minute that they need to close for 10 days - with families scrambling the night before to arrange child care and teachers scrambling to change up their lesson plans. And these closures have taken place without additional AF students in the building, which will almost certainly add to the challenge. The Mayor announced a couple hours ago that the quarantine/closure rules will change, but we do not know what the new rules will be -- and the experience of this year suggests that we would still experience frequent, unplanned closures. Ultimately, we feel that this disruptive, on-again-off-again dynamic is not in the best interest of students and families. As much as we will miss the in-person contact, remaining remote through the end of this school year will allow us to focus on consistent, high-quality remote instruction this year AND prepare for a strong start to next year.
While we are disappointed that we will not be able to welcome our scholars back for in-person learning this year, we do want to make a few important points:
We DO plan to resume in-person learning in August for the start of the 21-22 school year. We expect almost all of our students to opt to return in person - and we will be ready to serve them safely based on everything we have learned this year. (As you know, our schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island have been open for some of this year).
For the remainder of this year, we will continue to serve our students well with our best-in-class and ever-improving remote learning program. Now that the uncertainty about the rest of this year is removed, our staff will put all of their effort into continuing to make remote learning and community even stronger, especially for the students who are struggling with learning and connecting remotely. The days that we originally planned for staff professional development and asynchronous learning next week will be converted back to full remote learning days.
Our schools will also continue to support the technology needs of our scholars. If you have any technology issues, please make sure you contact your school’s main office.
Since we are not returning for in-person instruction this year, our scholars will NOT take the New York State Exams. While we fundamentally believe in the importance of state assessments -- including as a way for policymakers and political representatives to draw attention to the impact of under-investing in the education of children from historically underserved communities -- we also recognize that this year’s state test results will be compromised by all of the difficult circumstances of this year.
While scholars in Grades 3-8 will not take the state exam, the College Board has not cancelled AP exams / the SAT test, which impacts our scholars’ college prospects. Given this, our high schools will work directly with students and families to ensure our scholars are set up for success on these exams. High schools will also share further information later in the year re: graduation and other end-of-year events.
Thank you so much for your continued flexibility and partnership as we navigate this challenging year together. Please reach out with ANY questions!
Richard Buery (CEO), Stephanie Keenoy (Superintendent), and Dacia Toll