NYC High Schools to Reopen in Step to Post-Pandemic Normalcy

New York City on March 22 will resume in-person learning for high schools, the last group of kids to return to classrooms in the largest public-school system in the U.S.

Elementary schools brought back students in December after the most recent district-wide shutdown, and middle schools did so in February. Mayor Bill de Blasio had said the city’s 282,000 high school students were the hardest to bring back for in-person learning.

Reopening high schools will be the first charge for the city’s new schools chancellor Meisha Porter, who will take the helm of the 1.1 million-student system from outgoing chief Richard Carranza on March 15. She will be the system’s first Black female leader.

“My priority as chancellor is to open, open, open,” Porter said in a Monday briefing. “With a .57% positivity rate, our schools are the safest place to be.”

Porter said half of the city’s high schools will be able to have in-person learning five days a week, and “that will continue to ramp up.” The remainder of the schools will have a hybrid blend of remote and in-school sessions. School athletics also will resume in early April with weekly testing, mandated masks and a spectator ban.

Still, the reopening will only impact about 20% of New York’s high school students who signed up for in-person learning when given the choice last year. Families may be offered another chance to opt-in before the end of the academic year on June 25, but de Blasio said it was too early to make a decision on when because positivity levels and case numbers remain elevated. “We’re not going to do it until we are safe.”

There are about 55,000 students in ninth through 12th grades that have chosen in-person learning, a Department of Education spokesperson said on Monday. All 488 high schools will reopen their buildings, with 17,000 staff returning. There will be weekly Covid-19 testing for students and teachers.

To deal with the pandemic’s impact on students’ mental health, schools are preparing for guidance counseling sessions, as well as social, emotional, and academic assessments to check in on how students and their families have been impacted by the health crisis. “As students come back to school, we will be able to do that at a deeper level,” Porter said.

De Blasio repeated his pledge to bring schools back in full force in September. “There’s nothing more essential to our recovery than bringing back our public schools,” he said.

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