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Politics

Constantinides’ Statement on City’s Open Classrooms Announcement

August 25, 2020

ASTORIA – New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides, District 22, issued the following statement on City Hall’s announcement on August 24 that it enable New York City schools to use outdoor space as classrooms:

“For weeks we have begged the City to consider outdoor learning as a crucial tool for keeping students who must learn in-person safe, only to be rebuffed. While I’m glad we have finally seen some movement for open classrooms, it comes less than three weeks before in-person learning will begin. We will now find ourselves scrambling to identify those open spaces, low-hanging fruit that could’ve been dealt with more than a month ago, amid ongoing concerns about access to PPE and reliable testing for our school system. Even though I’m glad to see the City has finally embraced this measure, we are still ill-prepared for a uniform plan to safely resume in-person learning on September 10.”

Background:

·         Constantinides first made this case to the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation more than five weeks ago, in a July 16 letter (below) to Chancellor Richard Carranza and Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

·         Constantinides was among 31 Council Members, led by Education Chair Mark Treyger, who asked City Hall last week to delay in-person learning, which is scheduled to begin on September 10.

Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the New York City Council’s 22nd District, which includes his native Astoria along with parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. He serves as the chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and sits on three additional committees: Sanitation, Resiliency, and Technology. For more information, visit council.nyc.gov/costa.

The full text of the July 16 letter follows:

Dear Chancellor Carranza and Commissioner Trottenberg,

As we spend the next few weeks planning on how to best reopen public schools in a manner that protects the public health, safeguards our students, and empowers our teachers, I’d like to bring an idea to your attention that I believe furthers all these efforts. During the dark days of the pandemic many thought leaders in the transportation and small business community came together to advocate for Open Streets and Open Restaurants. The idea was to take away space from cars and give it to people. By using parking lanes as extensions for sidewalk cafes and making select streets completely car free, we gave more space for people to safely enjoy the outdoors while helping businesses recover from the lack of indoor dining. I believe the Department of Education and Department of Transportation should collaborate and replicate the Open Streets program for schools.

The scientific community continues to learn about COVD-19 every day. What we know is still rapidly evolving. The one certain fact that we’ve established is that we’re far more likely to contract the virus while indoors. Groups of people are safer outside in the open air rather than being within four walls. Given this fact, it would be prudent for the DOE to utilize outdoor space for learning to the maximum extent possible. This practice can take many forms, from using school yards and parking lots to closing off traffic during school hours on the streets surrounding schools. Every school is different and there is no one size fits all approach. However, there are many schools where this would be possible and outdoor learning could be a safe fun alternative to the traditional classroom.

COVID-19 has tested our city in many ways. It has tragically taken lives, jobs, and has exacerbated a myriad of other issues from domestic violence to mental illness and addiction. We would be mistaken, though, to not recognize how it has challenged our city to be more ambitious and forward-thinking than before. Prior to COVID-19 many businesses railed against parking space loss under any circumstance. The DOT’s existing Safe Streets program was woefully underutilized and had no shortage of red tape requirements that discouraged most businesses from ever participating. This overly prescriptive program was turned on its head due to the urgency of the time and we now have an Open Streets program that’s flexible and easy for businesses to understand. Ultimately, I hope that the DOE and DOT could work together to determine how the Open Streets program can be adapted for schools. While the weather is an obvious limitation, this can still be an option that gives schools more opportunity to safely reopen in the fall.

Thank you for your time and attention. The staff at both the DOT and the DOE have worked tirelessly over these last few months to keep New York City afloat. I’m grateful for the work that you do and I know that many New Yorkers recognize your efforts. I hope we can continue to work together towards adapting our city to the new realities this virus has brought on.

Sincerely,

Costa Constantinides

New York City Council Member, 22nd District

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