NYC unveils outdoor learning option for schools

August 24, 2020

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 can use backyards, streets closed to cars, and certain parks for outdoor learning, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday. Unveiled just weeks before school is expected to open next month, the new option takes the “best ideas from around the world” to make school safe for students, teachers, and school staff, according to the mayor. “We know the disease doesn’t spread the same outdoors,” de Blasio said. “We want to give schools the chance to do as much outdoors as they can.”

The plan encourages principals to set up outdoor classrooms in schoolyards, but ultimately gives them the decision on whether to use outdoor space at all. Schools without their own outdoor space can request additional space from the Department of Education.

The mayor said outdoor classrooms could be set up on certain streets closed to cars and in some space in nearby city parks. 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.

“I’m excited about outdoor learning as a supplement to the school day,” Richard Caranza, commissioner of the Department of Education, said on Monday. “Before COVID, as a teacher and a school leader, I always knew how important it was for my scholars to get some time outdoors. And now in partnership with our sister agencies, that will be possible for more schools, even if a school doesn’t have a yard.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said 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.

De Blasio’s plan for NYC schools is stricter, 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, a full-time nurse in every building, and free COVID testing and expedited results prioritized for school staff.

Ahead of the start of school on Sept. 10, teachers, parents, and public officials have expressed concern over the safety of reopening schools for in-person instruction. Last week, the United Federation of Teachers, the union that represents NYC teachers, said if their demands regarding sanitation, ventilation, and testing are not met, the union is prepared to go on strike.

“We don’t believe it is possible for schools to open on Sept. 10,” Michael Mulgrew, president of United Federation of Teachers, said during a press conference last week, as NPR reported.

An online petition created by an NYC parent calling on the city to provide outdoor space for schools launched earlier this month and has since gathered more than 4,400 signatures.


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