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No remote option for NYC public school students in September as de Blasio vows children will return to classes

Students exit a school as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Brooklyn on Nov. 13, 2020.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday New York City public schools will reopen on Sept. 13 without a remote option — backtracking on early commitments to offer families worried about sending their children back into classrooms with fully online classes. 

“I am very pleased to announce that New York City public schools will fully reopen in September, every single child will be back in classrooms,” said de Blasio. “We are going to have so many protections in place as we proved even during the toughest months of COVID that we could keep kids and staff safe with a gold standard of health and safety measures.” 

In March, de Blasio said he planned on scrapping hybrid learning this fall and would instead work to bring back all public school students into schools for five day a week live instruction while also offering a fully remote option for families that might still be afraid to send their children back into school buildings in September. 

On Monday, when asked by reporters why he chose to reimagine his previous vision on how classes would look this fall the mayor cited the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and the CDC relaxing of some health and safety guidelines as reasons for the change. 

“We got to understand we are leaving COVID behind, we can’t live in the grip of COVID forever,” de Blasio said. Some health and safety guidelines rolled out during the pandemic will be lifted once students return to classrooms this fall. Schools will return to pre-pandemic rules in terms of student illness. 

In a letter sent to families, Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter assured parents that masks will still be required in all school buildings and those with COVID-19 symptoms will continue to be asked to stay home. In addition, this fall students, teachers, and staff will continue to take daily health screeners at home and COVID-19 testing will still take place in school buildings as long as the CDC sees fit. 

The city’s teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers, which has increasingly supported expanding in-person learning,  expressed concerns over how a full return to school would impact the city’s small number of students with severe medical challenges.

“For that small group of students, a remote option may still be necessary,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew in a statement.  

The issue of whether schools can accommodate all students while still abiding by the CDC’s social distancing requirements came under question again on Monday. Currently, the CDC recommends students in k-12 schools sit or stand three feet apart regardless of the virus’ transmission rate in the school’s surrounding community. 

According to de Blasio, city public schools “have a lot of classrooms” that could allow for students to maintain three feet of social distance and for those that can’t the Department of Education plans on using alternative space to accommodate students or make other adjustments. 

“But I don’t see that,” de Blasio added. “So we’ll have a plan a, plan b as always but I have no doubt we’ll be able to accommodate our kids.” 

The majority of the city’s 1 million public students–about 65%–are enrolled in fully remote learning which raises questions as to how comfortable families will feel sending their children back into schools this fall. A recent survey showed about 65% of families with students enrolled in fully remote learning would most likely send their children back into schools while the remaining 35% are unsure. 

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