City considering additional opt-in date for blended learning this spring, mayor says

School classroom with blackboard
Photo via Getty Images

New York City public school parents could get another chance to opt their children into blended learning this school year. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday the city is considering offering families of students taking solely remote classes an opportunity to enroll in blended learning some time this spring. But officials need to “be really clear that we can do it in a healthy and safe way,” said de Blasio, before a decision can be finalized. 

The mayor added that if, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shrinks their social distancing guidelines for schools from six to three feet, that would prompt an additional opt-in window. 

Thursday’s comments are the latest in a months-long saga concerning opt-in dates for blended learning. Prior to the system-wide public school reopening last fall, Mayor de Blasio, then Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and other representatives from the Department of Education repeatedly told parents choosing to keep their children home they would have multiple chances to enroll their students in blended throughout the fall semester. 

But shortly after the city released data showing only a quarter of the city’s 1.1 million public school students had attended one day of in-person learning a week since schools reopened, both officials told parents they would only have one more window in early November to enroll their fully remote students into blended.  

The sudden shift in policy came as shock to parents who had been thrown for a loop many times by the DOE over their handling of public school closures in March and their twice-delayed reopening in the fall and was viewed as a clear attempt to boost enrollment numbers. 

One parent told amNewYork Metro the measure was a “cruel” move to pressure parents into making the decision to send their children back into school buildings before they were ready. Others said that it was an unnecessary burden to place on teachers and other school administrators who would be thrown into a scheduling nightmare after the opt-in window’s closures. 

As  Mayor de Blasio and the DOE work to bring back all students who want to return to school buildings by September, there are a number of teachers, families of students and children themselves eager to have students return to physical classrooms as soon as possible. 

Bronx high school teacher Amanda Geduld is one of those people. She says many of her students feel they need to return to the classroom in order to be successful since they struggle to focus on schoolwork at home because of limited access to WiFi or simply because there are too many distractions in their living space. 

“If you have four kids in a home who are all learning remotely and they are all learning in the same room it’s really distracting to hear four teachers’ voices Zoom into your living room at the same time,” said Geduld. “It’s incredibly relatable for any adults working through this pandemic…There are students who are struggling to log onto Zoom and even more who can get onto Zoom but once they are their WiFi cuts in and out, their sound cuts in and out or it’s freezing.” 

Remote learning isn’t just difficult from a technology standpoint but also from a mental health standpoint, Geduld adds. “Kids just really want to be with their friends.”

Earlier this year, former Chancellor Richard Carranza said public schools are experiencing a worrisome uptick in student suicides. Five students died by suicide during the 2020-21 school year, according to preliminary data from the DOE, one more than the year before. 

The news alarmed parents and educators and shined a light on the mental toll of the pandemic on the city’s young people. 

More from around NYC