Dear Commons Community,
Class is back in session — and approximately 900,000 New York City schoolkids are expected to report to school today.
With the ringing of school bells and the rumbling of the yellow buses come a host of changes, big and small, and lingering challenges on the horizon. For instance, snow days will be a thing of the past and replaced by remote learning anytime there is excessive inclement weather. Here are five things to look out for as the school year kicks off courtesy of Daily News education reporter, Michael Elsen-Rooney.
A changed COVID-19 landscape
This year, for the first time since before the pandemic, city kids and teachers will start school without a mask requirement, after the face-covering rule was lifted last spring. COVID-19 quarantine rules will also look very different than last year at this time, with kids exposed to a positive case in class no longer required to isolate. Kids who share a classroom with a virus-positive peer will now be given rapid tests.
There are still other COVID-19 requirements on the books, though, including an ongoing vaccine mandate for all staff, students participating in sports and some after-school activities, and visitors to school buildings.
An ongoing fight over budget cuts
A fierce debate over enrollment-driven budget cuts has consumed many parents, educators and administrators over the summer, and the fight is far from over.
The on-the-ground effects of the budget slashes, which have forced some schools to cut staff positions and programs, could become clearer as kids and teachers return to school.
A stunning judicial decision temporarily halted the cuts, but was subsequently reversed by a higher court. Further arguments in the case are set for the end of September.
Meanwhile, the City Council, which approved a big chunk of the cuts in the first place, has promised a “muscular” fight to restore some of the cuts when the city’s budget comes up for modification later in the fall.
More data on learning loss — and more questions
The nation got its most comprehensive look yet last week at the extent of the academic challenges the pandemic wrought, with math and reading scores plunging last year compared with prepandemic levels.
More precise testing data — including New York City-specific scores — is expected next month, which will likely turn up the scrutiny on the city’s plans to spend billions in remaining stimulus funds and help students recover.
A continuing focus on school safety
Last year’s full-time return to in-person classes brought with it a marked surge in the number of weapons turning up in city schools, reigniting a long-running and thorny debate about how best to keep students and schools safe.
Schools Chancellor David Banks has pledged to keep school safety as a major focus — and strike a balance between using approaches like police and metal detectors and more supportive services like restorative justice and mental health services. Banks announced Wednesday that 850 new school safety agents have been hired for this school year.
Will attendance and enrollment bounce back?
Getting kids to sign up for school and show up consistently has been a major challenge for many big urban school systems during the pandemic, including New York City’s.
The Education Department is forecasting further enrollment declines this year, but final numbers aren’t released until later in the fall.
Meanwhile, chronic absenteeism reached unprecedented levels last school year, and many of the city’s newly hired superintendents have identified improving attendance as a priority.
We wish Schools Chancellor David Banks good luck with the start of the new school year!