NEW YORK — Starting Monday, the city will give some public school students learning remotely another chance to opt into in-person classes.
“Our goal is always to have as many kids in school safely and properly,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the announcement Friday afternoon. “This will hopefully mean a lot more kids coming back.”
The new opt-in window will be for pre-K, 3-K, elementary, and District 75 (schools for children with special needs) students.
New schools chancellor Meisha Porter said the opt-in will be flexible based on each school’s needs.
“For those of you who feel ready and comfortable sending your kids back into school buildings, we’ll have more information in the coming days,” Porter said. “But I promise you this will be safe.”
De Blasio said the city could bring back more elementary school students for in-person learning by the end of April. The school year ends in June.
The mayor has said he plans to bring all students back to the classroom in September.
The move comes as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Friday eased recommendations for social distancing guidelines in schools from six feet to three feet, with some qualifications. That change means more children can be inside classrooms.
While there is no timeframe for bringing more middle and high school students back into the classroom, the mayor said that beginning next week those students can inform the city if they would like to eventually opt into in-person classes. The CDC's new social distancing guidelines are stricter for older students. High school students who previously opted in will return to buildings on Monday for the first time since November, while middle school students who previously opted in are already back at school.
Initially, the city promised parents they'd be able to opt in to classroom learning at multiple points in the school year. But the mayor walked that back last fall, instead offering only one additional opportunity, in November, to sign up. Since then, tens of thousands of educators have been vaccinated, as have other adults across the city, spurring renewed calls for another opt-in. As of Friday, around 3.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in New York City, although that total includes first doses and doses given to people who live outside the five boroughs.
After the announcement, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) accused the mayor of not having a plan for the opt-in effort, and lacking the authority to do so. The union on Twitter said it will wait for the state to weigh in.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew had previously told WNYC Radio that increasing the number of students attending in person would likely upend already complicated school schedules. But he said he was open to another opt-in with enough time to plan, noting the union initially agreed to a plan with multiple chances for parents to sign up.
The mayor on Friday stressed he wants to prevent students’ schedules from being drastically changed for the worse, and wants to maximize the number of kids attending classes in person five days a week, but these goals will depend on the individual schools.
It’s unclear how widespread the demand for another opt-in period is. About 70% of public school families have chosen remote learning so far this school year.
Heather Lindner’s sons Henry, 8, and Jack, 5, have been in full remote learning since this time last year. She told NY1 she thought choosing to keep them remote this past fall was the right call at the time, when no COVID-19 vaccine available. While she feels differently now — considering her kindergartener’s struggles learning remotely and his disdain for a computer screen education — she says she’s on the fence about city schools allowing more kids back into the classroom.
“At this point, there’s only three months left of school and I think it’s crazy to change that now, because there’s so much stress on kids and teachers in schools already, that putting another kink into what they are trying to do is really unfair,” Lindner said.
Lindner also brought up a point echoed by Jenn Schulte, another mother of two whose children attend the same school.
The difference is that her kids, Jesse, 11, and Jane, 7, have technically been taking part in blended learning ever since they first got the chance in September. But Schulte says they really haven’t benefited significantly from it.
“Every time they are in for a stretch, a case, and then another case, and then they shut down,” Schulte said.
She said her kids’ school has been frequently closed due to COVID-19 cases and is therefore off-limits for in-person instruction. She says if school officials offer in-person instruction to more students, they need to reassess regulations they currently have in place.
“I don't understand why we’re suddenly going from 6 feet to 3 feet to increase class sizes, and yet with the guidelines of after two cases they close the building,” Schulte said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
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