Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday details of New York City’s plan to reopen public schools in September — a complicated plan that calls for some students attending class in schools two or three days a week and learning remotely the rest of the time.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza joined Bobby Cuza on NY1’s Inside City Hall in the evening to explain how the proposed system would work, and what the Department of Education is doing to make sure students, their families, teachers, and staff will be safe.
“It is just such a compact school system,” the chancellor said, “so you can’t, with the health and safety and the social distancing requirement, put 100 percent of your students in the space at the same time. It requires us to think about, how do we do that in-person learning experience for students while at the same time maintain health and safety?”
The education department worked with the city and the teachers’ unions to develop models that would have one group of students, called a cohort, learn in school Tuesdays and Thursdays, and another cohort in class on Wednesday and Friday. The cohorts would take turns on Mondays.
The working group is also developing plans for what the curriculum would look like and, Carranza says, taking the advice of medical professionals to determine how many students can be in a classroom while still social distancing.
Carranza says it is necessary to come up with a creative solution in this overwhelmingly difficult time.
“This is choosing the least of the onerous choices we have,” he said. “Health and safety is important for the students and the staff, and we know it will be imperfect until we get a vaccine. But we want to push as hard as possible to make sure our students have an in-person learning experience.”
The chancellor says their mantra will be “safety first,” with the possibility that cafeterias and gyms could be turned into classrooms for extra space. There will be Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizing stations, along with electrostatic disinfection of schools every night and isolation rooms for students who may become ill while in school.
“Should a student or a staff member exhibit signs of infection,” Carranza said, “they would be put into this isolation room until a parent can come and pick them up, or they can be transported.”
Carranza acknowledged that the new system could prove to be a nightmare for working parents who may not have the luxury of dividing their work schedules to accommodate two or three at-home learning days a week.
“I empathize with all of our parents,” he said. “I know it’s a difficult situation. That being said, Mayor de Blasio and I will be meeting with business leaders in the coming days because they’re gonna need to be flexible. We want them to be flexible until we get to the other side of the pandemic.”
He said they’ll also work with community-based organizations and city agencies that deal with child care to develop options for parents who need help on the days their children are learning from home.
“We completely understand that this is not easy,” Carranza said. “We’re working hard to have some definitive plans. But we want parents to know, we hear you. We’re working hard to provide solutions, especially for parents who don’t have a lot of options when it comes to returning back to the work environment.”
But it’s not only parents who are worried about seeing their kids head back to the classroom. Cuza asked the chancellor what, if any, accommodations are being made for teachers who may have pre-existing conditions that could make in-person learning dangerous, if not impossible, for them.
Carranza again stressed the safety precautions being taken, including upgrades to HVAC systems and increased ventilation. He said teachers who may not be safe won’t be forced back into classrooms.
“We understand there are going to be situations where teachers have certain underlying conditions,” he said. “There will be a process for teachers to be able to apply for that. But we are very clear that teachers in New York City miss their children. They miss their students. They miss that interaction. So, even if a teacher has an accommodation and can’t be in-person providing instruction, we know that teachers will still have the opportunity to be those remote-learning teachers. There’s gonna be lots of flexibility that will happen.”
Asked how long the new “blended learning” protocols will be in place, the chancellor said there’s just no way to know.
“We know that we will, in September, when the school year starts, we will be in a blended learning model,” he said. “We will continue to keep health and safety measures first and foremost to keep people safe. We also recognize it’s really important for kids to have the social nature of school, the interaction. And we know for some of our most vulnerable groups of students it’s critical that we, in a very safe way, provide an opportunity for them to come together. So, we’re gonna be very focused on keeping our students and our families safe as we go forward. But no one knows what this is gonna look like in September or October, or even November or December.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo insists the state will decide when it will be safe to open schools for in-person learning again. He said he will look at the city’s plan and intends to make his decision in mid-August.
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