On Wednesday, New York released state tests scores and parents finally got confirmation about the devastating learning loss so many of us saw first-hand during extended school lockdowns. The most reliable academic indicator for students in third to eighth grade — math scores — plummeted across all grades.
The slow progress made pre-pandemic was eviscerated. Students in every year tested lost ground, and the largest drop was among eighth graders heading to high school, who saw 11% fewer students proficient in math.
This wasn’t much of a surprise to those of us who spent months fighting against the public-school system’s disastrous response to COVID. That experience is part of why we — lifelong Democratic voters, moms of girls, staunchly pro-choice and long-time supporters of gay rights — are voting for Rep. Lee Zeldin for governor.
As veterans of the school wars on merit and co-founders of PLACE NYC, a 15,000-parent- strong advocacy group dedicated to improving academics, we spent the last two years fighting to open schools, eliminate needless mask and vaccine mandates and are now trying to restore the academic standards erased during COVID. We worry that our children have become pawns in the highly charged debate on the rights of parents. And we no longer trust that Democrats are on our side.
Pre-COVID, we battled then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to eliminate the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test and Gifted and Talented program — and the larger agenda to dumb down all schools to prioritize political interests over student success.
With COVID as the excuse, once-rigorous schools are now accessed by lottery; accelerated coursework has quietly vanished in many middle and high schools; funding for AP courses was slashed. Parents who’ve fought along with us feel exhausted and disenfranchised. And many have left New York, or are planning their exit.
In fall 2020, we took on our most critical school fight. What good are accelerated academics if schools aren’t even open? What good is G&T if kids are tuning out while logging in to Zoom rooms? How could the system ignore teens facing all-time-high rates of mental-health problems, including thoughts of suicide?
As “open-school moms,” we got a front-seat look at the intersection of our children’s education and political power, at how our elected leaders and teachers unions treat our kids as collateral damage in their schemes.
In keeping most schools closed and many programs suspended, they claimed to be “following the science.” But the science had already shown that schools are safe from COVID and children at extremely low risk.
And Gov. Kathy Hochul, using emergency powers she inherited and endlessly extended, played an outsize role in robbing our children of the education and normalcy they deserve. She mandated masks for all children in school — including toddlers — while unmasking higher-risk adults in bars and packed sports stadiums.
The parental victory of mask-optional policies in schools was the result of a lawsuit brought by intrepid Nassau parents — parents fighting our own governor and attorney general on behalf of all our kids.
Parents were also ignored when our elected leaders mandated the hastily researched and newly approved pediatric COVID vaccine for students to participate in school sports and afterschool activities — even as millionaire entertainers and pro athletes got waivers.
Politicians who couldn’t convince parents of the safety or efficacy of the pediatric vaccines (which clearly aren’t needed for the overwhelming majority of kids) decided to just ignore and steamroll parents instead.
Parents are the only decision-makers who prioritize their children’s needs exclusively. We don’t balance the competing needs of donors, unions and political allies.
Parental involvement in their children’s lives is the No. 1 indicator of successful outcomes. The city Department of Education used to acknowledge this: The first item in the Parents Bill of Rights is: “Be Actively Involved and Engaged In the Education of Their Children.”
Yet many parents are still barred from their children’s classrooms, school plays, recitals and in-person parent-teacher conferences because of vaccine mandates — even though the pandemic is clearly long over.
The Democratic leaders we supported, donated to and elected now try to paint parental rights as a right-wing talking point — going so far as to mischaracterize Florida’s worthwhile Parental Rights in Education Bill as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
We see through it. Like so many NYC parents we have worked closely with, including gay parents and parents of gay kids, we are strong supporters of gay rights and parental rights.
Parents need to be unapologetic about taking back our seats at the school table. But we are convinced that Hochul will continue to do everything to keep us out.
It’s not just the way she bypassed parental rights since taking office, or how her authoritarian anti-child policies have harmed an entire generation of kids. Her education platform is a list of who and how much she will give our tax dollars to — with no real plan to address learning loss, engage with parents’ concerns about curriculum and zero accountability for academic outcomes and funding.
Some who agree with us still stop short of endorsing Zeldin. We often hear, “Aren’t you worried about women’s rights?” Yes, we still care about abortion rights — and we know they’re codified in state law and in no danger of changing under Zeldin because it is the will of an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers. We are not fooled by Hochul’s fear-mongering.
What is at stake are our rights as parents. We need elected leaders who respect and uphold our rights in raising and doing what is best for our kids.
That’s what’s really on the ballot in November. We have met with and listened to Zeldin. More important, he has met with and listened to us — to parents all across the state. His education policies align with ours and he has been an outspoken and firm advocate for parents’ rights.
That’s why, as pro-choice, pro-gay rights Democrats, we will vote across the aisle for Lee Zeldin this November.
Yiatin Chu and Maud Maron are co-founders of Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, PLACE- NYC.
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