With the openings of at least 45 early education sites canceled or delayed on the eve of his prekindergarten initiative launch, Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to reassure parents Wednesday that safety and quality are "paramount."
"I hold a simple standard: Would I send my own child to one of these programs?," he said outside City Hall.
The mayor has overseen the expansion of free, full-day pre-K, with $300 million in state funding. More than 51,500 students were enrolled as of , compared with 20,000 last school year.
Out of 1,700 pre-K programs, nine serving 265 students were shut down and 36 serving 900 children must postpone their openings until at least Monday, officials said. Red flags were found at the sites on issues from delayed construction to health violations to bungled paperwork, officials said.
"For the families of those over 50,000 children, it's going to be a fantastic day," de Blasio said. "For the families who are still waiting for their situation to be resolved, we pledge to get this done very quickly."
Students of the nine rejected programs are guaranteed seats and were being reassigned to other sites, de Blasio said.
About 400 employees of the city departments of fire and inspections were in the field to make 11th-hour safety checks and Department of Education workers were conducting walk-throughs, city officials said.
De Blasio emphasized that the city would offer "high quality" education amid the speed and scope of the pre-K expansion.
City officials said they are hiring an independent research firm to conduct a $2 million multiyear study beginning this fall. The firm would assess the quality of the initiative in part by studying 200 programs at random, reviewing documentation and interviewing stakeholders, including families.
Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said the evaluation will be independent and "rigorous."
City officials said 2,755 of 3,000 new pre-K employees citywide have passed criminal background checks. Those who failed were not permitted to work.
Separate state background checks for child abuse and other offenses are continuing, and teachers and aides waiting to be vetted can work under the supervision of employees with clearance, officials said.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer has scrutinized de Blasio's team for being too slow to submit pre-K vendor contracts to his office for final review and registration. As of , Stringer's office said it had received 186 of more than 500 contracts.
With Matthew Chayes