Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is calling on the city to delay the start of the school year until at least October.
"We want to make sure that there's some more time. We think that opening up in September is just way too early,” Williams said.
Williams said that when school does open, in-person classes should be limited to students ten years old or younger, and that older students should continue remote learning until at least next January.
"We believe we can then reassess whether or not we should open to the broader folks come next semester,” he said.
Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist, joined the public advocate's virtual press conference from Bellevue Hospital in full protective gear, endorsing Williams proposal.
Gounder said the science is clear: only allowing the youngest students into schools first would be safer.
"They're lower risk of getting infected. They're lower risk of having severe disease, and they're lower risk, importantly, of transmitting infection to adults,” Dr. Gounder said.
Taking these steps, she added, could help mitigate the risk of a return to school leading to increased spread of the virus.
"That allows you to then reassess — how does that go? That's the lowest risk group, if that does not go well, then you definitely do not want to reopen more broadly,” she said.
Backers of this approach also note elementary school students are more in need of supervision, less capable of navigating remote learning on their own, and more likely to be at critical stages of their education, like learning to read.
Mayor de Blasio said he's still sticking to a September start for students of all ages.
“Right now, our intention is to open on schedule and to open with all grade levels, but, again, with blended learning – some part of the week kids in school, some part of the week kids online, and then for those kids and families who prefer just online, that will always be an option available to all families,” de Blasio said.