Dear Commons Community,
Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday declared that all New York City public school students will attend in-person classes in the fall after more than a year of fully or partly online attendance (see video above).
His announcement ended weeks of speculation about a possible virtual option for families who are still wary of sending their children back to the public schools — more than a year after the city’s one million students first shifted to remote learning as the coronavirus pandemic descended.
“New York City public schools — one million kids — will be back in their classroom in September, all in-person, no remote,” de Blasio said. As reported by The New York Daily News and NBC News.
“The new details were a relief to many families and educators who have been craving the full return of in-person classes — and allow school administrators to begin planning for next fall in earnest after months of hazy details.
“I think today’s announcement was a big step in the right direction in terms of what principals have been waiting for to get started,” said Mark Cannizzaro, the head of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union representing city principals.
But the move also opens up thorny questions about how the roughly 60% of city families who are currently still remote will feel about returning their kids to school buildings in the fall — and what will happen if they refuse.
“If people want their kids to go to school, let them, but they can’t say no remote option, because some of us think differently,” said Davida LoSavio, the mother of a tenth-grader at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan.
“Some of us are high risk, that vaccine is not a cure-all,” LoSavio said, noting that both she and her daughter have asthma, and neither feels comfortable yet taking the vaccine.
A recent survey found that about 65% of remote families were comfortable with the idea of sending their kids back to school buildings this fall, while 20% were on the fence and 15% said they’re unlikely to return their kids to in-person learning.
City officials say they’ll answer that skepticism with a blitz of events meant to build trust with skeptical families.
Schools chancellor Meisha Porter is in the midst of a series of town halls in each borough, and officials said schools will host “open houses” for remote families starting in June.
“We can’t live in the grip of COVID for the rest of our lives,” de Blasio said. “There’s four months between now and September. We’re going to keep showing the data, we’re going to keep showing people the health and safety measures, we’re going to invite people to come in.”
De Blasio had previously signaled that a remote option might be available, but on Monday he said that rapid drops in COVID-19 levels as vaccinations increased changed his thinking.
“It’s May, the data has been unbelievably clear, vaccination has worked ahead of schedule,” he said. “It’s a whole new day. It’s just a whole new reality and we’re ready.”
COVID numbers in the city have reached their lowest levels in months as the mayor pushes to get the city fully reopened by June. Just 0.16% of the students and teachers tested in city schools over the past week were positive for COVID-19.
Roughly 60% of city adults are at least partially vaccinated, and officials said “at least” half of city teachers are inoculated. Twenty-thousand 12-15 year-olds, out of roughly 500,000 overall, have gotten a shot since eligibility opened earlier this month. Officials have said they will not mandate the vaccine for DOE students or staff next year.
While city officials project confidence that they can persuade reluctant families to return to school buildings by September, some worried parents are adamant they won’t — and already thinking about backup plans if the in-person requirement stands.
Gwendolyn Livingstone, the mother of a fourth and eighth-grader at P.S./I.S. 178 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, said she will look into homeschooling her kids or try to find a charter school that offers a remote option if there’s no virtual school through the DOE.
The city’s largest charter school network, Success Academy, which has stayed fully remote since last March, will offer a virtual option to families through the first marking period of next school year.
“I don’t care what they [the DOE] try to do, that’s not going to make me comfortable,” Livingstone said about in-person school. “I think they should keep it as an option to the kids that don’t want to be inside of a building.”
City schools will continue requiring masks for students and staff in the fall. Asymptomatic testing will continue if health guidelines recommend it and the “situation room” that tracked positive cases and shut down schools and classrooms will stay in operation, though officials haven’t yet specified whether classrooms will still shutter if a positive case is identified.
The roughly 28% of city teachers who got medical accommodations to work remotely this year because of elevated COVID-19 risk will not get those accommodations in the fall.
City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew appeared to back the new plan, calling remote learning “no substitute for in-person instruction.”
“Educators want their students physically in front of them,” he added, but cautioned that for “a small number of students with extreme medical challenges…a remote option may still be necessary.”
City schools are currently keeping elementary-schoolers 3 feet apart in classrooms while middle and high school students maintain 6 feet of distance. Officials said they predict the Centers for Disease Control will loosen distancing guidelines for schools by the fall but say they can accommodate all students with 3 feet of distance even if some schools need to use “alternative space.”
“We would make that adjustment,” de Blasio said.
I think it a good move to re-open the schools but to require in-person classes of every child may produce some problems. There is a substantial number of parents who are leery of sending their children back to in-person instruction for medical, fear of vaccination, and other reasons.