‘It’s mind-boggling’: NYC parents blast city over last chance to opt into blended learning

FILE PHOTO: Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza tour New Bridges Elementary School ahead of schools reopening
FILE PHOTO: A hallway stands empty during a news conference at an elementary school

New York City officials announced on Monday that public school families will only be given one more opportunity to enroll their children in blended learning this year breaking a previous promise to allow parents or guardians to opt-in once every two to three months. 

The opt-in period will begin next week on Nov. 2 and end on Nov. 15, officials said, in the hopes of boosting lower than expected attendance rates for in-person classes which is currently at 82.9 %, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Parents or guardians can enroll their child into hybrid learning or fully remote learning via a survey on the Department of Education’s website. 

“We know we are not where we want to be with attendance,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. The city’s pre-COVID school attendance rate was about 92%. “We’ve raised the bar and we expect students to meet that bar.”

De Blasio also announced on Monday that just over 280,000, or a quarter of the city’s public school students,  have attended in-person for at least one day a week since the in-person learning started in September.

Parents and teachers now almost accustomed to first hearing changes to city schools from the Mayor’s daily press conferences were shocked by the announcement with some referring to it as a “bait and switch.”

“It’s cruel,” President of School District 26 Council and mother of four Cathy Grodsky told amNewYork Metro. “It’s a devastating thing for parents to go thinking that they have four options to go back in and to now only have one and to do it a few weeks after schools have reopened and things have sort of settled. It’s mind-boggling.” 

One of the Department of Education’s most frequently used talking points during reopening has been that parents who choose to keep their children home for fully remote learning will be given the option to reassess and enroll their child in hybrid learning. The option was touted by officials seemingly to ease parent worries as the city prepared to roll out its unpopular hybrid learning model without providing clear answers on remote learning, staffing, school ventilation and personal protective equipment supplies in schools. 

Although the reopening process has been fraught with changes, the mayor twice delayed the beginning of in-person learning and implemented a last-minute phased-in approach, the new opt-in schedule is an unnecessary stressor that is disrespectful. Especially since some expect the DOE to change the opt-in timeline by either extending it or offering a second opportunity for parents at the last minute.

“Our children are not pawns,” said Grodsky. “To make them like they are chess pieces and to move them around to suit some whim and suit some idea that was not workable from the start is wrong.”

Now, parents will be pressured to make a decision on whether to enroll their children in hybrid learning or keep them home before they feel ready, according to Tamara Gayer, president of the parent’s associate at the Brooklyn Harbor School in Williamsburg. She argues that if the city only wants to give parents one opt-in date for blended learning officials should wait until the end of January.

The city should wait and see what happens this winter in regard to the virus before giving parents any sort of a deadline, she added.  The number of COVID hospitalizations reached a two-month high and the country has reported 80,000 new cases of the virus for the second day in a row, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University. 

Some parents also told amNewYork Metro that the city needs to properly address severe staffing shortages in schools before expecting parents to feel confident in blended learning. Some students currently enrolled in blended learning travel to school on their in-person days to sit in front of a laptop to receive instruction from teachers working remotely. 

By all accounts, a week is nowhere near enough time to allow parents to fully evaluate how school classroom closings, school closings and the closure of schools in COVID cluster red and orange zones and the city’s COVID data before making opting their child into hybrid learning.