Mayor Eric Adams wants people to hear his message about city schools: They’re open, with no remote option.
"Our schools are going to remain open. We are not going to do anything that is going to stop our children from coming into schools,” he said.
But, a new attendance policy means some students who don't come into school will still be marked present.
Since the fall, schools have been required to provide students who are positive for COVID, or who are in quarantine, with virtual office hours, and what's called asynchronous instruction — not live teaching, but posting assignments or lessons online. And if those students engage with the online work, they're marked present, with a special code noting they're remote.
On Friday, the DOE quietly expanded those rules.
"We offered up a little bit more clarification and an option for some more students to take advantage of that policy, if the teachers in those individual schools essentially was so inclined,” Schools Chancellor David Banks said.
In an e-mail sent Friday, First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg outlined scenarios in which a teacher could not be forced to provide office hours or online assignments, including “if a student fails the health screen and there is no COVID-19 test,” if a “student is absent for non-COVID reasons,” or if “a family is keeping a student home and is requesting all assignments.”
But he wrote that teachers could choose to provide those students with online office hours and assignments.
“If staff are willing and their supervisor approves, staff may provide office hours and asynchronous instruction to these students and shall be compensated accordingly,” he wrote.
And, if those students log on, they’ll be counted as present.
“We wanted to at least provide, as an on ramp, if you will, some additional students who would have an opportunity to do this asynchronous learning and to maintain their attendance in doing so,” Banks said.
Mark Cannizzaro, president of the union representing school principals, says this is something some schools had been quietly doing anyway in an effort not to exclude children who were staying home.
"How do you tell a child and a family, ‘Hey, I'm going to be online,’ or even, ‘I'm going to be providing this asynchronous instruction, but you can't have it.’ That's difficult too, right? So a lot of schools were saying sort of, on the side, ‘The teacher will be on, go ahead and join,’" he said.
But, parents shouldn't confuse increased access to office hours and online assignments, which will only be available when individual teachers agree to it, with a full fledged remote option.
"This is definitely not a remote option,” Cannizzaro said.
About 75% of students were in attendance at schools Friday, meaning more than 200,000 were home, without remote instruction.
Under the new policy, some of those students will be able to join virtual office hours or get asynchronous assignments, if they’re teachers agree, and they could be marked present, even if they continue to stay home.
That could push up the city’s daily attendance rate, even without bringing more children physically into the classroom. It’s unclear whether the DOE will provide the public with a breakdown of which students are present in person and which are present remotely, but so far, they have not.
Adams says his priority is getting the students who have been absent over the last two weeks back to their desks.
"We need to identify, find these children and bring them back,” he said.