New York City hit a major milestone Tuesday: elementary school students returning to classrooms for the first time since March.

What You Need To Know

  • The city began its second phase of school reopenings Tuesday, with elementary school students returning to class

  • Pre-K and students with special needs returned last week, and middle and high schoolers start in person Thursday

  • But the number of cases of coronavirus is rising in the city, and if that continues, it could trigger another closure of city schools

"I'm really excited to see my friends again and to learn in school,” said Garriel Thompson, 10, a fifth grader at P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side, as she lined up for class Tuesday.

It comes after months of preparation, and weeks of delays. But on the same day, the city hit another milestone that could put the phased reopening of city schools—with middle and high schools set to start in person on Thursday—in jeopardy.

More than three percent of daily coronavirus tests came back positive in the city Tuesday. If that uptick persists long enough for the city's rolling seven-day average of positive results, now 1.38 percent, to also hit three percent, schools will close yet again.

"That is a much more accurate measure than going by any one day in particular,” Mayor de Blasio said at a press conference. “We will watch carefully over the next few days, we will report it daily. If we see a trend line, we will talk about it."

Most students will only attend school in person two or three days a week, an approach called blended learning, to allow for smaller class sizes. Still, no other big city school system has even attempted a return to classrooms. 

For students, classes will look radically different than they did last year and include randomized testing, which starts next week. 

"This year we have to do, like, six feet apart, we have to wash our hands,” Garriel said.

For parents, there were more than the typical first-day jitters.

"I work at a COVID testing site, so I already feel like I'm in danger a little often and I feel like this is going to make it a little worse, the concern every day,” Keymani Hilman said.

There were also worries about the kind of education students would get in socially distanced classrooms, where many teachers are avoiding shared items like pencils and paper.

"I'm a little afraid of his penmanship at the end of the year because everything's going to be online and all his fine motor skills, if he's only going to be using a tablet,” Hilman said.

The biggest fear for some parents?

"An outbreak,” Tommie Foster said. “The teachers, the students affecting the teachers, they still have to go to their families as well."

Foster, a postal employee who worked through the pandemic, said helping three children through remote learning while working a night shift was difficult. She's excited for her children to return to school. 

"To keep their mask on, social distance, they have their hand sanitizer,” she said.

It’s a little bit easier to do that when the mask features a superhero: her son sported a Batman face covering for his first day.