Mayor de Blasio says it’s possible there could soon be another opportunity for public school children learning remotely to opt back into classroom instruction this academic year.
"We're preparing for the possibility of a new opt-in for this current school year, but we need more information,” de Blasio said at his daily briefing Thursday.
Those preparations are the result of the Centers for Disease Control considering whether to ease recommendations for social distancing guidelines in schools, a change that some experts say could safely allow more children inside classrooms.
"We're starting the planning now to be ready for the possibility that the CDC will change the standard. If there is a change from six feet to three feet, for example, that will absolutely be the reason for an opt-in, because we would want to give more kids a chance to get back into school quickly,” de Blasio said.
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.
"It's the middle of March and, you know, there's three-and-a-half months left in the school year. That's a lot, but there's also lead time that would be involved in something like this,” the mayor said.
Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew told WNYC radio that increasing the number of students attending in person would likely upend already complicated school schedules.
"It has to be done in a timely manner so schools can completely reprogram, because that's what it requires, which is no easy task,” Mulgrew said.
But while he says he's awaiting more medical consensus on how far apart desks should be, Mulgrew says he's 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.
"That was in the plan that we endorsed — the mayor is the one who made the changes on that,” he said.
It’s unclear how widespread the demand for another opt-in is. About 70% of public school families have chosen remote learning so far this school year.
Meanwhile, high school students who have previously opted in will return to buildings on Monday, for the first time since November.