NEW YORK – Nearly 200,000 preschoolers, elementary school students and students with special needs will be studying again in person next week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday. The move follows outrage from parents and people in his own administration over his decision to close public schools earlier this month.
Middle and senior high school students will continue their distance learning as they are more likely to spread Covid-19 and get used to virtual classes better, de Blasio said.
The younger students will be in school five days a week and they and school staff will be tested for the virus weekly.
“It’s a new approach because we now have so much evidence of how safe schools can be, and this has come from the practice of the largest school system in America,” de Blasio said when asked about his decision on the threshold for the school to change closings all over again. “We are confident that we can protect the schools.”
The mayor presented the reopening plan during a press conference on Sunday, less than two weeks after closing the schools, as part of an agreement he made with the teachers’ union to shut down the buildings, when the citywide broadcast rate was a weekly average 3 percent reached. The citywide positivity rate on Sunday for seven days was 3.9 percent.
The city will no longer use the 3 percent limit to determine school closings, but rather rely on specific Covid-19 cases at each school.
“I feel for all of our parents who are facing so many challenges – how important it is to have their younger children in school,” said de Blasio. “We now think we know what we didn’t know in the summer – we know what works through actual experience.”
Families must give their consent so that students can be tested once a week. Those who don’t are not allowed to attend classes in person, de Blasio said. Only students who opted for face-to-face learning earlier this year can participate, but they now have classes for five people Days of the week rather than the mixed model the city used before.
The President of the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew, who was instrumental in influencing the actions of the City Hall in the course of the pandemic, said he supported the policy as long as “strict tests are carried out”.
“This strategy – if done properly – will allow us to provide safe in-person tuition to the maximum number of students until we are over the pandemic,” Mulgrew said in a statement.
De Blasio’s decision to close the school two weeks ago sparked trouble at town hall and most public health officials and senior administrators advised against it, so four people involved in the talks. They felt like he was facing gratuitously Mulgrew, who eventually admonished the system that allowed the city’s mayors to take control of the public school system days after he signed the closure plan.
“School closings have been profoundly frustrating after all the work they have done to open them up and the success they have had,” said one administration official, who spoke of internal considerations only on condition of anonymity.
The official involved in the city’s pandemic said the decision to close schools was based on a conservative approach that, according to all data, was out of date [was] collected. The fact that we couldn’t pan earlier was disappointing, but now we’re in the right place. “
The news is likely to come as a relief to parents of younger students who have criticized the mayor’s decision to close schools while restaurants, bars, and gyms remained open in limited capacity. Governor Andrew Cuomo has ultimate authority over these companies and has stated that they will once again be subject to restrictions.
Cuomo told reporters on Sunday that he believed the plan was “the right decision,” given the facts and information public health officials now have about Covid-19 infection rates among younger school children.
“It’s best to keep schools open where it’s safe,” he said on an afternoon conference call. “And I think opening schools in New York City is the right direction and the right decision.”
Managing the city’s public school network was arguably the biggest challenge de Blasio faced during the pandemic. He tortured himself over whether to close them during the virus surge in March and initially held back – despite advice from the city’s health department – over concerns about delayed academic progress and working parents unable to afford private childcare . Days later, he closed schools for the remainder of the school year and, after a few more delays, announced a mix of face-to-face and distance learning.
About half of the city’s 1.1 million students had chosen to attend face-to-face classes, although only about 283,000 had shown up by October, according to the city.
When asked about his original appeal to shutter schools, the mayor replied, “I sure felt bad and didn’t want to, but I felt we had to keep the commitment we made.”
The latest blueprint, he added, “will get us through until we have a vaccine.”
Shannon Young contributed to this report.