NYC’s School Closures Are a Crisis for Low-Income Families

Apr 6, 2020 by

“Week three, that’s when things get sketchy.”

Since New York City public schools shuttered their doors on Monday, Daysi Cuevas, a home health aid, has been waking up at 5:30 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, to prepare breakfast for her 16-year-old son with diabetes. “I try to do my best,” she said, “but I don’t know if he eats the food I leave for him.” Cuevas says she leaves their apartment in Brooklyn at 7 a.m. so she can arrive at work by 8, where she cares for an ailing elderly person. She doesn’t return home to her son until 6:30 p.m. for dinner.

The Department of Education (DOE) kept school cafeterias open for free breakfast and lunch this week to those who needed it, a service Cuevas said her son relies on in school. But Cuevas, who did not know about the free school breakfast and lunch option, told me that she is “scared” about where her son’s meals will come from for the foreseeable future. “This is week one, and I suspect for a lot of people this [pandemic] fell during a pay week,” said Natasha Capers, director of Coalition for Educational Justice, a parent-led organizing group for educational equity, “so people were able to stock up,” she said. But as the days and weeks go on, “what does that look like? Week three, that’s when things get sketchy,” said Capers. A spokesperson for the DOE said that starting Monday, 120 “hubs” will open around the city providing meals for students in need.

“I am one of those low-income parents,” said Grisel Cardona of the Bronx, a stay-at-home single mom of three kids in the public-school system. “I rely on the government and I’m not afraid to say it.” Cardona, who quit her job to take care of her kids, says the school closures have also stoked anxiety about food. “We get a certain amount of money for food stamps and people are taking food off shelves,” she said, “how will we stock our cabinets while this is happening?” Food pantries, she explained, can have more than 50 people standing on line, which Cardona sees as a threat to public health.

Amid pressure from some parents, elected officials, and the teachers’ union, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last Sunday that it was time to take “more drastic measures” and closed schools across the city. Neighboring school districts in Long Island and Westchester County closed their doors as well. But for low-income families (about 73 percent live in poverty), 114,000 homeless students, undocumented students, and English-language learners, school closures are a cataclysmic event. It isn’t that those impacted wish for schools to remain open during a pandemic, but the realities of life without a safe place for kids to go and learn reveal how integral the school system is for New York City’s most vulnerable and how so many social safety-net measures are tied to it.

Source: NYC’s School Closures Are a Crisis for Low-Income Families

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