By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
New York City public middle and high school students will not return to schools for in-person learning until early next year, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.
“The focus will be over the next few weeks up until the Christmas break, getting elementary, District 75 special education and pre-k and 3-k up and running … then we are going to come back after the holidays, we are going to be able to assess the situation then,” de Blasio told reporters at a Nov. 30 press conference.
On Sunday, de Blasio had announced that students enrolled for in-person classes at public schools will begin to return to recently re-shuttered school buildings in phases beginning Dec. 7.
The city’s youngest learners, 3-K and Pre-K students, are the first group scheduled to return to buildings with the city District 75 students set to return to in-person classes on Dec.10.
The mayor issued a system-wide shutdown of public schools after the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate based on a seven-day average reached 3% on Nov. 19, which was set as a trigger for school closures in the mayor’s state-approved school reopening plan during the summer.
Since the second citywide public school closure due to COVID, officials have scrambled to come up with a new reopening plan and de Blasio repeatedly emphasizing the importance COVID-19 testing will play in allowing students to return to buildings.
Now, students will need to submit signed COVID-19 testing parental consent forms online or to their school’s leadership before being allowed to re-enter the building. In addition, school communities will be tested for COVID-19 more frequently once schools re-open. Beginning the week of Dec. 7, 20% of all children and adults in a school building are required to be tested at random for the virus every week.
The city began requiring monthly testing of 20% of all adults and children in school buildings in October.
“We are going to keep building up our testing,” de Blasio said Monday. “I want us to move on to middle and high school as soon as we can but we have to do one step at a time.”
The number of families interested in sending their children back to public schools to take part in blended learning are the minority. Only about 330,000 out of the city’s 1.1 million public school students are enrolled in blended, according to the most recent data from the Department of Education.
On Monday, de Blasio touted that most of the students who will return to school buildings next month will be able to attend in-person classes for five days of the week.
“For the kids who did choose, for the families that did choose in-person, we will be able to move to five days a week or at least more days a week in a lot of schools,” said de Blasio.
Even so, the city has not revealed how it plans to improve remote learning, which has been plagued with challenges since March.
Instead, de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have repeatedly said that the city is working on improving remote learning. They’ve commended teachers for stepping up to the plate during one of the most trying school years in the city’s history and pushed in-person learning as the best option for students.
Over the weekend, the mayor hinted that the next time the city could potentially offer another window for families to enroll their children in blended learning is when a vaccine for the virus is readily available.
“We have the real possibility of bringing back a large number of kids once the vaccine gets pretty widely distributed,” de Blasio said. “Remember, we are still in November. There are seven months of the school year ahead.”