Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza tour New Bridges Elementary in Brooklyn to observe the school’s PPE delivery and reopening preparations; Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office on Flickr
New York City schools will no longer open in-person instruction for most students on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday. Just four days before city school buildings were set to physically reopen for students, the mayor delayed in-person learning for the second time after complaints from school staff over safety and staffing. In-person instruction will now start in phases, with preschool students starting on Monday, K-8th grade students on September 29, and high school and some middle-school students on October 1.
“Our students, staff, and families have demonstrated tremendous resilience over the last six months, and we’re going to continue to build on all the work we’ve done as we move forward,” Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza, said. “We are giving our schools more staff, more time, and more support to have the strongest possible start to the most unprecedented school year.”
Earlier this month, de Blasio announced a delay of in-person instruction from September 10 to September 21 after reaching a deal with unions to avoid a teachers’ strike. On Monday, schools were scheduled to open for blended learning, which includes a mix of in-person and remote instruction. Remote learning will still begin on Monday for all students participating in full remote programs.
De Blasio on Thursday said the decision to delay in-person instruction came after a long conversation with union leaders who represent city principals and teachers. As the New York Times reported, the leaders said schools were not prepared to reopen on Monday because many were understaffed and others had poor ventilation systems.
The mayor said the city will add 2,500 educators to fill staffing needs at 3-K, Pre-K, District 75, K-5, and K-8 schools, in addition to the 2,000 additional teachers announced earlier this week. The principals’ union has estimated that the city needs as many as 10,000 educators, according to the Times.
Most students will be physically in schools for in-person learning between one and three days per week, with classes online for the rest of the week. In the classroom, desks will be spaced six feet apart and only have about nine or 10 children in each class. All staff and students are required to wear masks all day.
The earlier agreement between the city and the United Federation of Teachers included random monthly coronavirus testing for staff and students. In addition to the 200 COVID-19 testing sites across the city, 34 of which will give priority to staff and students of the Department of Education, the mayor said mobile testing vans and tents will be set up at or near school sites.
“Our independent medical experts have stamped this plan, and we now can say the New York City public school system has the most aggressive policies and greatest safeguards of any school system in the United States of America,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the UFA, said earlier this month.
As Chalkbeat reported, parents will need to consent to their children being tested. The mandatory tests will be self-administered and not the swab test that reaches deep into the nasal cavity, according to the mayor.
The tests were scheduled to begin on October 1 and will test a random 10 to 20 percent sample of the students and staff at the schools, although it’s unclear as of yet if this start date will change. According to the city, parents will be notified ahead of time if their child is selected for a COVID-19 test for that month.
The Times reported that the city’s test and trace program for teachers who tested positive for the virus did not go well. About 60 of 17,000 educators in school buildings who tested positive were not contacted by the city for “hours or days.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month announced that schools in every New York region can reopen this fall for in-person instruction. Schools can open in a region if the daily infection rate remains at or below 5 percent over a 14-day average. If the infection rate spikes above 9 percent over a 7-day average, schools will close, according to the plan.
But de Blasio’s plan for NYC is more stringent, with schools allowed to reopen only if the positive infection rate stays below 3 percent. The mayor has promised a 30-day supply of PPE and cleaning supplies for all schools and a full-time nurse in every building.
Last month, de Blasio announced that schools can use outdoor space like yards, streets, and parks for outdoor learning because “the disease doesn’t spread the same outdoors.”
Principals can choose whether to use outdoor space at all, according to the city. Schools without their own outdoor space can request additional space from the Department of Education. The city plans to focus on providing extra space to schools in 27 neighborhoods hit hardest by the coronavirus, as well as schools without any usable outdoor space.
Of the more than one million students enrolled in NYC public schools, more than 40 percent will participate in all-remote instruction, which has grown in the last few weeks. Families are allowed to opt-out of in-person learning at any time.
Editor’s note 9/17/20: This story was originally published on September 1, 2020, and has been updated with new information regarding school reopening.