NYC In-Person Student Rolls Barely Climb With Opt-In Period

New York City, with a public-school enrollment of 1.1 million, saw just 35,000 additional students sign up for in-class instruction during its only mid-year opt-in period.

The city Department of Education released the numbers after two weeks, ending Sunday, during which parents were encouraged to join its blended program of in-school and remote instruction.

A little more than 3% of the student body responded to pitches from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. That brought the total signed up for a blend of in-school and remote instruction to about 335,000, or about 30% of those enrolled in the largest public school system in the U.S. The system shut down in-person classes Thursday for at least two weeks after the citywide positive Covid-19 test infection rate climbed to 3%.

Bill Neidhardt, the mayor’s press secretary, dismissed the question of whether the total was a disappointment.

“When our schools reopen soon, we fully expect to be able to handle this influx of students that is equivalent to the entire Minneapolis school system joining blended learning in one fell swoop,” Neidhardt said.

The turnout was so much smaller than expected that school officials say they are now planning to add more days to the in-school schedule. That may create even more staff scheduling challenges, teachers and union leaders have said.

“Our goal is to increase the number of days blended learning students are able to be in buildings, up to five days per week, and we will be working with schools to adjust their schedules,” Katie O’Hanlon, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. “We know that nothing can replace in-person instruction, and blended learning families deserve as much safe in-person instruction as possible.”

Currently, students enrolled in the blended system attend class two or three times a week and rely on remote home instruction on the other days. About 70% have chosen to receive all their lessons on the internet at home.

While school officials stress the education benefits of face-to-face in-school instruction, several parents said staff shortages and problems getting working devices to tens of thousands of student have created difficulty for students in both the blended and remote programs.

One advocacy group said the opt-in figures showed that parents don’t trust the system to keep their children safe from Covid-19 -- and the mayor’s failure by pushing parents to choose during a spike in infections.

“Parents know that in-person is way better than remote, but at the end of the day parents choose their kids’ health and safety over everything else,” said Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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