Over 50,000 public school students returning to in-person learning later this month

Students are greeted as they return to New York City’s public schools for in-person learning, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at P.S. 506 in Brooklyn, New York
Students are greeted as they return to New York City’s public schools for in-person learning, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at P.S. 506 in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., December 7, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Over 50,000 New York City public school students enrolled in blended learning during the city’s most recent opt-in period and will return to classrooms on April 26, officials said Monday. 

Officials decided to open a new enrollment window for the city’s hybrid learning model last month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their social distancing guidelines for K-12 schools. 

Under the new guidelines, students are now allowed to sit three feet apart from one another if they are still wearing masks. New York state Department of Health approved the three foot guideline for younger students last but not for older students in areas of high-risk COVID-19 transmission. 

On Monday, de Blasio city schools will be prepared to accommodate all incoming students on Monday, April 26 despite the fact that students at middle and high schools still need to abide the CDC’s old guideline of maintaining at least six feet of distancing from their peers. 

“This will help them come back strong this year and preparing for next year when we are going to welcome back all our kids,” said de Blasio. The mayor touted the recent enrollment number as a testament to the safety of in-person learning but the bulk of New York City public school students, roughly 650,000, are continuing to learn remotely for the remainder of the school year. 

De Blasio speculated more families did not opt-into blended during the most recent window, in order to keep a routine.  “My view is a lot of parents were focused on the schedule question or they had gotten into a schedule that works for them, the kids have gotten used to and like the teachers they had and they didn’t want to disrupt that,” de Blasio said.

But remote learning has been far from consistent for the last year. ” Schedules have shifted, Zoom expectations have changed, and communication from the city has been spotty and disorganized at best,” said Amanda Geduld, a Bronx public school English teacher. “My guess is that most parents value in-person learning over maintaining a routine- if they trusted that in-person learning were truly happening.”

Geduld thinks there are three main reasons why families did not opt their children into blended. Some, she says, are still worried over health and safety in schools despite de Blasio repeatedly reminding New Yorkers of the low reported COVID-19 infections in schools. 

De Blasio on Monday attempted to squash fears again over health and safety among parents by predicting the city would become “an entirely different environment” by the fall due to the high rate of vaccinations. He also said officials are preparing for the possibility that some families may still want remote learning for their children come next school year. 

Others do not think sending their children back into classrooms would be helpful and meaningful since many blended student take their classes over Zoom even during their in-person days. Many schools are struggling to offer live instruction due to a teacher shortage caused by the blended learning model and due to thousands of teachers teaching solely remotely due to health reasons. Roughly 28,000 teachers have requested a medical accommodation in order to not return to school buildings for live instruction this year, according to the Department of Education. 

In addition, some families may not have had enough time to opt their children back into blended learning before the city changed its “two case” rule for COVID-19 school closures which has resulted in hundreds of temporary shutdowns of schools. Under the rule, a school was required to shut down for at least 10 days if two unlinked COVID-19 cases were detected in the building. 

De Blasio finally scrapped the policy nearly two months after first promising to reevaluate the police and replaced it with a “four case” rule a day before the opt-in window closed on Friday, April 9. 

It is unclear if the instructor shortage problem will continue next fall and if a remote instruction option for teachers will be offered during the upcoming school year. 

“We are working to reset for next year and we are in a very different place than we were a year ago today,” said Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter. “We are really looking forward to resetting what our system looks like with our staff members coming back.” 





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