NYC to End Remote-School Option for Students in September

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said a remote option will no longer be available when public school students return in September.

Requiring in-person learning for the roughly 1 million students in the largest U.S. school system represents a big move toward the city’s full reopening. As the end of the school year approaches, most of the city’s students are learning from home.

“You can’t have a full recovery without full-strength schools,” de Blasio said Monday on MSNBC. “More and more kids will be vaccinated, we’ve made vaccination available everywhere. It’s really time to go full strength right now.”

NYC to End Remote-School Option for Students in September

New York joins neighboring New Jersey in eliminating a virtual option for students in the fall, among the first in the nation to pledge to bring back all students to in-person schooling.

De Blasio had long expressed his hope that kids would return to classrooms in the fall, but it was unclear whether a remote option would be offered. The city began allowing in-person learning for elementary schools last December, middle schools in February and high schools in March. About 600,000 students opted not to return to schools due to health and other concerns.

After new distancing guidance in March from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed the school system to open classrooms for more students, nearly two thirds of kids still chose to stay home.

The move will be a step toward easing some of the inequities compounded by the pandemic as students of color and low-income students have struggled disproportionately. More than $100 billion from the American Rescue Plan, in addition to aid from prior relief bills, is headed to school districts across the country to help cover the cost of reopening and addressing those differences.

De Blasio urged parents who still feel unsafe sending their kids to in-person classes to mentally put Covid behind them. City schools will welcome parents to come into the buildings starting in June to view safety protocols and get them re-acclimated, he said.

“It’s time for everyone to come back,” de Blasio said Monday during a briefing.

Teacher Response

The mayor also will have to win over the city’s teachers, thousands of whom remain home due to safety concerns.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the largest New York City teachers union, said he supports getting as many students back in school this fall, but there should still be a remote option.

“There is no substitute for in-person instruction,” he said in an emailed statement. “We still have concerns about the safety of a small number of students with extreme medical challenges.”

City officials have maintained that health and safety protocols have kept Covid-19 rates relatively low at schools, despite frequent closings throughout the year prompted by student cases. With nearly half of New York City vaccinated, the city’s hospitalization rate has dropped precipitously to below 1 per 100,000 residents.

About half of the city’s teachers have been vaccinated, schools chancellor Meisha Ross Porter said during a briefing. “We will welcome all our teachers into the fold,” she said. “We would never take any risks with our most important assets and that’s our children.”

De Blasio said he expects more teachers and kids to be vaccinated by September, and that Covid rates will continue their steady decline. Kids ages 12 and up are now eligible for the vaccine. De Blasio said he expects that the CDC may drop their guidance to keep kids three feet apart, but that “every school could go to three feet if we had that rule right now.”

Come next school year, teachers won’t be allowed to teach remotely while kids are in classrooms, more commonly known as “Zoom in a Room.”

Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a coalition of parent groups, said she was surprised about the mayor’s move and was concerned about returning to large classes.

“I think there’s a hesitancy about bringing children back if there are overcrowded classrooms,” Gripper said. “It’s not just the CDC, it’s parents’ concerns about overcrowding. There’s a hesitancy about putting 35 people in a room together, whether six feet apart or three feet apart.”

Some parents said today’s move was made without their consultation.

“A lot of my parents are very upset,” said Farah Despeignes, president of the Community Education Council District Eight in the Bronx, who has two sons studying remotely. The decision jeopardizes children who have excelled in remote learning and is a risk to areas where vaccine hesitancy is higher, she said.

“To have this decision made without speaking to Bronx parents feels like a slap in the face,” Despeignes said.

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