NYC Schools Expand Enrollment After New CDC Distancing Rules

New York City schools will expand in-person instruction to include more students after U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance recommended three feet of separation between children would be sufficient to prevent contagion in classrooms.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will begin a new opt-in period next week for all students and their families to elect to return to their school buildings and finish the remaining third of the school year in person. The city plans to begin offering in-person learning to the additional students starting in April, starting with elementary-school and special education students.

”A recovery for all of us hinges on bringing back our schools,” de Blasio said at a Friday briefing. “Parents have been clamoring for this opportunity.”

NYC Schools Expand Enrollment After New CDC Distancing Rules

The U.S.’s largest school system has been operating under a hybrid schedule in elementary and middle-schools, along with rigorous testing requirements. High schools are scheduled to open under similar circumstances March 22. Required mask-wearing, distanced seating and other protocols have kept the Covid-19 infection prevalence rate in schools below 1% since October.

But children and families who hadn’t opted in to classroom instruction when offered the choice in November weren’t able to return to in-person learning. That meant 70% of the system’s 1 million students were still learning remotely.

Now, parents may choose in-person instruction again.

“For those who feel ready and comfortable to, send your children back to school buildings,” said the city’s new schools chancellor Meisha Ross Porter. “It has to be the parent’s decision.”

The CDC Friday recommended that the risk of Covid-19 infection in schools could be minimized if students maintain a distance of at least three feet in classroom settings, instead of the previous guideline of six feet. That allows space for more children per classroom. The CDC cautioned that in areas with high infection rates, distances of six feet may still be required.

“Schools should determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement each of these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community,” the CDC said.

New York’s Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths have dropped substantially from winter highs, but the metro area still has some of the highest Covid rates in the country.

De Blasio said that more than 40,000 educators have received vaccines. The United Federation of Teachers, the city’s largest teacher’s union, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

When asked whether the UFT would support the decision at the Friday briefing, de Blasio said “we think we can work this out.”

“The bottom line is, kids need to be in school. If they’re not in school, they are suffering,” de Blasio said. “We have to move this whole city forward and this is how we do it.”

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