"I understand parents want answers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. “Here's some answers: schools will be opening in September."
If only it were that simple.
De Blasio vowed that students will be back in classrooms this September — some of them, five days a week. But he faced an immediate pushback from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said the decision rests with him, and from teachers’ union president Michael Mulgrew.
“Every time I’ve tried to engage City Hall on any of this, they didn’t want to engage on it, so I guess, I don’t know,” Mulgrew said. “Maybe he saw the parent surveys that parents would like it.”
That survey, which the mayor touted, found that about 75 percent of parents are comfortable with their children returning to school. But Mulgrew noted most said that was contingent on safety plans.
“That has not been figured out yet. A lot of work has happened and I’m very proud of the staff, especially over the last two weeks,” Mulgrew said. “But City Hall has not been engaged in any of it.”
The city has been preparing families and teachers for the likelihood that students may have to learn at school and at home on alternating days, to allow for smaller class sizes and social distancing, to protect against the coronavirus.
But Thursday the mayor said some students might be able to return full-time.
"We're going to convert everything that can be a classroom into a classroom to accommodate social distancing,” he said. “Some schools will be able to have all of their kids, when you factor in total use of space and that probably every kid will not be there."
Plans being discussed include mandatory face coverings, including free backups at the school for students that don't have one; social distancing layouts for classrooms; hand washing stations with sanitizers; and deep cleaning protocols every day for custodians.
The mayor says reopening schools safely is key part of keeping the city going during the pandemic.
"You could see the emotion earlier this week when we had the citywide graduation ceremony. How much people are feeling this moment in history. How much we have to support our kids. We are doing the work right now to make September successful, to make the new school year successful," de Blasio said.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza was to meet with principals Thursday to discuss more details on resuming in-person classes. Details about the meeting were not confirmed as of this writing.
The mayor's office did not confirm whether there will be extra teachers, which will be needed if class sizes are reduced. Nor has it responded, Mulgrew said, to the union's request for plans to provide parents child care in the case of split schedules, and for a nurse in every school building. The city now has a hiring freeze.
“When the mayor makes any comments about the schools, the members, the teachers, the paras of New York City do not feel comfortable. That’s just what it is. That’s the reality now. They remember that they had to fight for two straight weeks to try to get these schools closed. They knew they were doing the right thing and the mayor was doing the wrong thing,” Mulgrew said. “For him to just pop up today and say, ‘I’m opening schools,’ is not going to give any comfort whatsoever.”
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