NYC Schools Are Reopening, But Are They Ready? Tracking 311 School Maintenance Complaints From 2010 to 2021

We all know that education is the basis for personal, professional, societal, and economic growth, and that’s why providing continuous, well-rounded education from an early age is crucial. Over the past year, the global education system has taken a huge hit, with millions of children and teens suffering from the disruption in their academic lives. Lockdowns, school closings, a sudden switch to hybrid or fully-remote learning environments – these unforeseen changes have had a massive impact on the level and quality of education that children receive. 

As schools in NYC reopen, parents and children remain fearful

Roughly one year after the first lockdown was imposed in New York City, schools are finally reopening, albeit it’s a slow, partial recovery, at least for now. The coronavirus pandemic is still in full swing, and there’s no way of accurately predicting its evolution. The good news is that vaccination efforts are accelerating across the globe, which gives us hope of an eventual return to normality. Unfortunately, children are still suffering, many of them still unable to receive the education they crave and deserve. 

This March, schools started to reopen in NYC, marking the first step on the road to recovery. However, many children and parents out there are not ready to return just yet, with fears of another coronavirus wave looming. According to a recent piece by The New York Post, the number of students showing up to school in person each day totals less than 15% of all kids in the system. 

Why is this happening? According to The Post, thousands of parents have moved their children to charter or private schools, while many families have moved out of the city. Another reason might be the fact that parents simply don’t believe their children are safe attending school just yet, and they might not be 100% sure that schools are prepared or properly equipped to keep their children safe from the coronavirus. 

Are NYC schools ready for in-person classes? Not according to parents in Queens, the Bronx, and the UWS

In light of NYC’s reopening and the low in-person school attendance numbers, we wanted to see if New Yorkers are taking action to report and solve issues they encounter in schools across the city. So, we looked at all 311 School Maintenance complaints filed in the city from 2010 onwards, to get a better picture of where problems exist and what kinds of problems people are reporting. 

We looked at the overall number of school maintenance-related complaints filed with the 311 service from 2010 through 2020, and also extracted the numbers to compare 2010 to 2020 when it comes to such complaints. Naturally, as most schools were either partially or fully closed during 2020, in the majority of NYC neighborhoods, the number of complaints dropped decade-over-decade. However, there are a few areas where the number of school maintenance complaints increased in 2020, likely due to schools being unprepared or lacking certain safety/health features that are now required to keep the coronavirus at bay. 

Check out all of NYC’s community districts ranked by the total number of complaints recorded from 2010 through 2020 on the below map, and read on for more details on what these numbers tell us.

The UWS records highest number of school maintenance 311 complaints from 2010 to 2021

The Upper West Side, one of NYC’s most prestigious and wealthy neighborhoods, boasts the highest total number of school maintenance complaints from 2010 through 2020, namely 941. The UWS is home to a number of high-profile public and private schools, and also houses Trinity School, the best private school in the city, according to Niche. It consequently comes as no surprise that this part of the city would have so many complaints related to school maintenance issues. 

Upper West Siders filed 53 complaints with the 311 service in 2010, and 46 in 2020, with the most common problem being related to air conditioning in the schools. 272 of the 941 complaints registered during the past decade were related to this issue, which might be a signal that air quality remains a major problem in NYC’s schools, even in its most prestigious ones. A lack of proper ventilation and air quality is a major factor that fuels the spread of the new coronavirus, so it’s a serious problem that might prevent parents from sending their children to school in person. 

5 Neighborhoods record more complaints in 2020 than in 2010, all located in Queens and the Bronx

While most of the areas we looked at recorded a drop in the number of school maintenance-related 311 complaints in 2020 compared to 2010, there were a few neighborhoods where the number of complaints actually increased decade-to-decade. The five neighborhoods are located in Queens and The Bronx, and they are Jamaica/Hollis (62%), Hillcrest/Fresh Meadows (200%), Kingsbridge Heights/Bedford (100%), Jackson Heights (33%), and Hunts Point/Longwood (183%). These residential, mostly middle-class neighborhoods of the city are home to many public schools, which don’t benefit from the same budgets that private schools on the Upper West Side do. A lot of these schools are relying on funding to deliver upgrades that ensure social distancing and all the measures necessary to protect students and staff from the coronavirus. 

Unfortunately, many of the city’s public schools don’t receive enough funds to be able to upgrade their classrooms and facilities to compete with what private schools have to offer. A recent report by an education advocacy group also found that more than 127 public schools sharing buildings with charter schools were short changed more than $15 million. State law imposes that when a charter school receives funding to renovate, public schools that share the same building must receive the matching funding to make the same upgrades. It would seem that this hasn’t been happening as it should, and consequently many public schools in the city lack the upgrades and features that charters of private schools already have. 

Nurturing our children’s mental health during this uncertain time

Many parents in the city don’t have the luxury of having a home office or affording a babysitter, and they would rather send their children to school instead of having them attend classes online. What’s more, many children and teens are suffering from emotional and mental issues following the pandemic, and attending classes online isn’t a one-size-fits-all option. 

According to CBS, schools in the city have started placing more focus on social and emotional learning to help students cope with the effects of the Covid19 pandemic. Being disconnected from friends and school activities and faced with numerous restrictions and tricky home-learning environments, many students are being affected socially and emotionally, particularly those students with learning differences. This is where our team at Da Vinci Collaborative tries to make a difference; we want to help children find ways to cope with the mental and emotional effects of the pandemic, and continue their education, regardless of their learning styles or differences. 

Check out more details on each of the neighborhoods we looked at in the table below, and reach out to Da Vinci if you or your child need assistance or support during these troubled times. 

Data Source: NYC OpenData
Complaint Type: School Maintenance
Time range: 1/4/2010 – 3/13/2021

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