NYC parents start GoFundMe for push to reopen public schools

Fed-up parents are to set to take legal action to immediately open New York City schools five days a week — with teachers in every classroom.

The parents raised $20,000 as of Friday through a GoFundMe campaign to hire a lawyer and file on Monday for an emergency injunction.

Upper West Side mom Natalya Murakhver, who started the fund-raising campaign, said the move comes after striking out with rallies and other measures to return kids to school full time.

“What’s been horrifying to me is to realize that this city is not putting its children first.” Murakhver said. “The union is the only one at the table with the mayor. The mayor almost seeks approval from the union to make any changes.”

Teachers union boss Michael Mulgrew has resisted redoing COVID-19 rules and initially opposed Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to ease the restrictive mandate that required schools close with at least two unrelated coronavirus cases. The union then endorsed de Blasio’s plan, announced Thursday, that schools would close if four positive cases emerged.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, addresses a news conference at UFT headquarters, in New York on March 15, 2020.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, addresses a news conference at UFT headquarters, in New York on March 15, 2020.
AP

Murakhver said teachers — who were eligible for vaccines earlier than most — should be fully vaccinated by now and belonged back in classrooms.

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While older students returned to middle schools in February and high schools last month, many are still being taught remotely on their computers while their teachers are elsewhere. About 70 percent of New York City’s public schools kids had been enrolled in remote instruction and those in blended learning may only go in a few days a week. Parents had another chance to switch to the blended model by Friday. Only about a third of city schools, some 250, were offering in-person instruction as of January.

“It’s alienating and depressing,” Murakhver said. “Our kids are suffering.”

She said her two kids clamor to be back full time in their Upper West Side elementary school rather than the typical two days a week they go in now under the blended learning model.

Parents started a GoFundMe to hire a lawyer and sue to get the public schools fully reopened.
Parents started a GoFundMe to hire a lawyer and sue to get the public schools fully reopened.
Helayne Seidman

Stephanie Kokinos, whose children are also in the blended model in a different Upper West Side elementary school, said the days they do remote learning were not serving them.

“It’s just impossible to make their little minds focus on something from a screen,” she said. “They just cannot learn efficiently through that route.”

Allison Weinger, a Harlem mom of first-grade twins, said the city should follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said in March that 3 feet of distance between students, rather the 6 feet, was safe, which could allow more students in classrooms. But Mulgrew said he wanted his own experts to weigh in before endorsing any changes.

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“The kids are doing great at keeping masks on. Teachers are now vaccinated,” Weinger said. “I don’t understand why we can’t follow the recommendations of our top leaders in government.”

The parents have hired Long Island lawyer James Mermigis, who also sued to reopen schools in November after de Blasio closed them when COVID-19 cases spiked. Mermigis said the city produced a timeline for reopening after the suit was filed with elementary age kids going back in December.

Mermigis said the current lawsuit will be filed Monday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan and he will seek an injunction a few days later to have teachers immediately return.

“This lawsuit is necessary to help these children,” Mermigis said. “There are children that are not doing well. They’re not coping. They have regressed significantly because of the remote learning.”

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