NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced schools will fully reopen this fall with no remote option for the city's one million public school students.
“New York City public schools, one million kids, will be back in their classroom in September, all in-person, no remote,” Mayor de Blasio said Monday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “That's the news I think parents, kids, everyone's been waiting for, to know we're going to be back strong, ready, safe.”
It will be a major shift for the more than 60% of public school students who have chosen to learn remotely. The lack of a remote option will mean those families have little choice but to send their children back to school unless they want to leave the public school system entirely for other options like home-schooling.
The mayor said the city will work to make families feel better about sending their children to class.
“We're going to welcome parents to come into the schools starting in June, see how much has been done to keep them safe, get reacclimated," de Blasio said. "We're going to do that throughout the summer, coming into September. Anyone has a question or concern, come into your child's school. See what's going on and get the answers."
He noted the low rate of COVID-19 cases in public schools and the increasing availability of vaccines — with children 12 and older now eligible.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently require students to be seated at least three feet apart, which the city has adopted in elementary schools; in middle and high schools, the city has adopted a more conservative standard of six feet apart.
That has made it difficult for some schools to serve all students who want to attend every day of the week — but de Blasio said he believes rules will change, and that even if they don’t, the city can accommodate all children even with three feet of distance.
“We could make that work if we had to, but I actually fundamentally believe by August, the CDC will relax those rules further to recognize the progress that we've made in this country,” de Blasio said.
The mayor made his announcement on national cable television before the news was sent out to educators or parents. In a note to educators, Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter wrote that all teachers and staff would return to schools in-person in the fall.
That will mean an end to the accommodations that have allowed 28% of city teachers to work from home.
“Because there will be no fully remote positions in the fall, COVID-related remote work accommodations for school-based employees will not be available next school year,” Porter wrote.
The city's teachers' union said there's "no substitute for in-person instruction," but that it might not be possible for all students to return.
"We still have concerns about the safety of a small number of students with extreme medical challenges," Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. "For that small group of students, a remote option may still be necessary."
The city plans to continue requiring students and staff to wear masks, and to continue coronavirus testing, though the frequency of it may change. At a Monday news conference, de Blasio said that the city's "situation room" for monitoring COVID-19 in schools will continue operation into next year.
De Blasio and Porter expressed confidence that parents would return their children to in-person learning without an exodus over health concerns.
"We've heard overwhelmingly from parents that it is time to get back to school, and time to get back to our new normal," Ross Porter said at the news conference.
Parents will be able to visit schools throughout the summer, starting in June, to see how they are preparing for the return to in-person learning. De Blasio said that such measures, as well as what he predicted will be widened eligibility for young children to receive the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the summer, will convince parents that they can return children to class.
"We gotta understand, we're leaving COVID behind," de Blasio said. "We can't live in the grip of COVID the rest of our lives."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday he wants to see all schools across the state return to in-person instruction in the fall.
“I think there’s no reason why every school shouldn’t be open in September," Cuomo said during a stop on Long Island to promote vaccinations. "The remote learning sounds fine and worked fine enough for some students. Some students paid a very heavy price."
Remote learning has widened the education gap for many families during the COVID-19 pandemic, favoring wealthier homes in which parents have more oversight of their kids and access to technology.
Cuomo said the arrangement ultimately discriminated against poorer students.
“Remote learning sounds fine and worked fine enough for some students," Cuomo said, adding, “By no stretch of the imagination is remote learning a substitute for in-class participation."