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Starting this past Thursday, the 141 minors currently in New York’s Juvenile detention centers will no longer meet in person for their schooling, according to reporting from The City.
Instead, their classes will continue remotely. And while their education will at least have a chance continue even as many other schools contemplate shutting down to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, there’s a catch.
The virtual classrooms will permit neither talking nor screen sharing from students. Teachers will be unable to hear or see their students in a virtual environment, making a chat box the only means by which students could participate in class.
Troy Sill, a history teacher at Bronx Hope, said he has concerns that the absence of a vocal two-way system of communication could hinder the learning abilities of already-challenged juveniles.
"I have kids, very low-level readers, writers, and their only ability to talk back to us is to type what they don't get," Sill said. "None of us feel that this is the totality of what the children should be receiving. It's not anywhere near."
While the restriction may seem counterintuitive for a learning experience, the concern driving the decision is virtual safety. Video communication, where the faces of the students would be up on screens, could jeopardize their privacy and identities to the outside world. Moreover, it could allow the detainees to find some way of contacting the outside world through unsupervised mediums.
Although the system clearly has its weaknesses, the Administration of Children's Services (ACS) is confident in providing adequate learning environment.
"Quality education and programming are critical components of our juvenile justice system. All youth in detention have access to remote and in-person learning through DOE's Passages Academy," an ACS spokesperson told The City.
The Department of Education also stands by the decision, citing the provision of resources such as Chromebooks and alternate sources of adult connections outside of class that would help in making the transition a successful one.
Sill isn't convinced.
"It’s just a very inadequate system. We need to be able to see them and talk to them, like any other kid. Our kids should get the same level of support as any other New York City kid," said Sill.