Back in May, Mayor Bill de Blasio officially announced New York City public schools would open this fall without a remote option — backtracking on previous comments suggesting the city would most likely offer a purely online option to appease parents worried about sending their children back into the classroom.
“I think there are only two realistic pieces here, a full five-day-a-week calendar and then a purely remote option for families that just won’t be ready at that point,” Mayor de Blasio said during an interview on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” in March. “But I do not foresee blended being a part of the equation anymore.”
In the months since the official announcement, the mayor and chancellor have repeatedly said all New York City public school students will be returning to classrooms this fall and that the Department of Education will abide by all health and safety protocols outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September.
But many details on how exactly the City will do that have been sparse and a growing number of parents are raising concerns over a return to classes and with some, along with Brooklyn City Councilmember Mark Treyger, are calling for a fully remote option to be reinstated for this upcoming school year.
Members of one of the most vocal parent groups calling for a remote option, the Bronx Parent Leader Advocacy Group, told amNewYork Metro the reasons families would like the option to keep their children remote are varied. In part, some parents would prefer to have their children home due to concerns about COVID’s Delta variant which now makes up 83% of new virus cases.
New York City has seen a spike in new COVID cases this month, along with hospitalizations. According to New York City’s COVID tracker, on June 18 City health officials reported 198 new cases of the virus across the five boroughs based on a seven-day rolling average. That number jumped to 618 a month later.
Another reason some parents are hesitant to have their children return to the classroom stems from a lack of trust in the City’s handling of the multiple system-wide shutdowns and blended learning.
“A lot of parents, as much as they wanted to send their children back to school, they did not opt into in-person learning because they did not feel like they could trust the Department of Education to keep their children safe,” Bronx Parent Leader Advocacy Group member Tajh Sutton told amNewYork Metro.
Throughout the pandemic school year, the Department of Education has offered families a few chances to enroll their fully remote children into blended learning with the last “opt-in” period ending in March. After the enrollment window closed, about 51,000 additional public school families chose to “opt in” to the hybrid model. But the bulk of public school students—roughly 700,000 out of 1.1 million children—chose to stay fully remote.
An additional reason some parents want to keep their children in remote is because some students have preferred remote classes. One Manhattan mother told amNew York Metro that her teenage son has done “exceptionally well” academically while taking his classes from home.
“One thing he will say is ‘mom I was able to focus,'” said the Manhattan mom who did not wish to share her name. “If the other children were doing something else that they weren’t supposed to be doing he didn’t have to hear that and the other thing he says is that he felt safe.” Her son did not just feel safe from the virus, but also safe from school environment that traditionally does not support him as a Black student.
“This story of learning loss and Black children is a fairy tale,” she said. “There are number of children that have done exceptionally well.”
“We have thought deeply about our plan for the upcoming school year and decided on one that puts our school community’s needs and safety front and center,” said DOE spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon. “The past eighteen months have put a stark spotlight on how nothing can replace a loving, caring in-person educator and, as always, we will closely follow guidance from health experts to keep our students, staff and families safe.”
Note: This article was updates on July 22, 2021 at 5:20 p.m. to reflect comment from the New York City Department of Education.