World Journal Archive

Credit: World Journal Archive

Read the original story in Chinese at World Journal
Translated and condensed by Rong Xiaoqing

The city’s decision to keep schools open has some concerned parents pulling their children from class amidst spread of the coronavirus, and families are at the same time worried the absences may hold children back from being promoted to a higher grade, despite assurance from the Department of Education that it won’t be held against students.

In Chinatown, some schools found their absenteeism rates have gone up in recent days. Alice Hom, principal of P.S. 124, the Yung Wing School in Chinatown, where more than 90 percent of students are Asian, said that more than 50 – or 10 to 15 percent of students – missed school on March 10. While the flu season hasn’t passed and the allergy season has started, Hom noted it was different than in prior years.

The DOE has been updating families with the latest information about the epidemic daily, and has called for parents to trust updates from city agencies rather than rumors. According to the latest notifications, students’ absenteeism won’t be considered by the DOE in the middle- or high-school application process.

Still, by the afternoon of March 10, more than 104,000 parents had signed a petition calling the DOE to close schools.  An op-ed piece in the New York Times recently also noted that school closure is the most effective non-pharmaceutical intervention for schools.

Hom said students and parents are all anxious about the epidemic, but the school has to follow DOE’s instruction on whether or when to close. It is also unclear whether the spring break, which runs between April 9 to April 20, will be extended for two to three more weeks as many parents hope.

The school has been sending out updates to parents via the app ClassDojo and though emails, and the DOE has also allocated 100 children’s masks to the school. 

In Nassau County, Chinese parents have started a petition to call for the school district to close schools. But in a letter sent out March 10, the school district told parents that only actual infection-related reasons can be considered as excused absence. Students who are pulled out of school simply because their parents are worried about the virus would be considered an unexcused absence. Nevertheless, some parents decided to keep their children home.  

But debates among Chinese parents about school closures are also fierce. Ms. Wong, a parent at the Yung Wing School, said many parents are worried about the virus and hopes the DOE will immediately start spring break.

Amy Zhang, another parent at the school, said that many students are from low-income immigrant families where parents cannot afford childcare, lunch which they would have gotten at school for free, or technology devices to support internet classes. As for herself, Zhang said the only thing she can do is to try her best to keep calm to avoid scaring the children.           

Wai Wah Chin, president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, said the DOE should try to take care of parents’ diverse needs should the epidemic get worse. Those who have the resources to keep their children at home should be allowed to do so. And for those who have to send children to school, the schools should provide less crwoded classrooms to help students keep a safe distance from one another.