This fall, at long last, my dream is coming true: my youngest child is off to school with his big brothers. I never imagined they’d be wearing masks and having their temperatures checked at the door, but after six months stuck at home, we’re grateful school is happening at all.
The Catholic school my kids attend has a big-enough building and small-enough classes to meet social-distancing requirements. It also has a dedicated faculty, staff, and principal who spent the summer months scrambling to stay abreast of ever-shifting guidelines in preparation for offering full-time instruction both in person and online. I am thankful for their efforts and proud of all the work diocesan schools are doing to serve families. But I must object to that work being used to disparage the public-school system and its employees, or to paint too rosy a picture of the progress our country has made in combating COVID-19.
On September 2, the New York Post ran a photo of a Catholic school classroom on its cover. The students’ empty desks are surrounded by see-through barriers. “Outclassed Again,” the headline says. “De Blasio delays school openings, as Queens Catholic academy is ready to go.” Ten days later, alongside a photo of children in Catholic school plaid, the Post published an editorial: “Here’s what functional NYC school systems look like—and it puts DOE to shame.”
The paper’s jeering coverage of public education consistently ignores the reasons Catholic schools are able to “function” when public schools cannot. Public schools are obligated to serve all comers and to provide transportation when necessary. The “social distancing” that everyone hopes will make in-school learning safe is impossible to achieve in a crowded building or on a full school bus. And providing virtual instruction to such a vast body of students requires sorting through a bewildering array of variables (for one thing, many children lack reliable at-home internet access; some public-school students lack homes, period). It is highly dishonest for the New York Post to ignore all those factors and hold up Catholic schools as an example of “how leaders who actually put education first can handle the challenge of restarting schools amidst a pandemic”—especially when you consider that the Archdiocese of New York permanently closed twenty of its schools in July.