Instead of all schools reopening on Monday, only 3-K, Pre-K and District 75 students returned to buildings. The remainder of students are set to roll in by grade in the coming weeks, with middle and high schools opening last on October 1.
The decision comes after various protests led by educators and parents across the five boroughs, insisting schools are not yet safe enough to reopen.
As of Friday, the city confirmed more than 60 cases of coronavirus among Department of Education (DOE) staff members since they returned to school buildings in early September, prompting the temporary closure of several institutions.
“If the city had acknowledged the scientific and logistical realities months or even weeks ago, our schools would be in a better, safer, and more stable place,” tweeted Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in response. “The admin has again made an 11th-hour reversal, with no excuse and no notice.”
On September 16, the day before in-person education was pushed back, the City Council voted to pass a resolution that would call on DOE to keep individual school buildings closed until they have met all 50 safety standards outlined in a checklist by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).
It would also require DOE to implement randomized COVID-19 testing for adults and students frequenting the buildings.
Sponsored by Councilman Mark Treyger of Brooklyn, the bill supports a fostered agreement between the city and several labor organizations representing school personnel, including UFT, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), and District Council 37.
“It’s obvious that in-person schooling needs to be delayed,” read a joint statement from the public advocate and Treyger, “and it’s just as obvious that the mayor’s so-called strategy of bringing us to the brink over and over is misguided and detrimental.”
The two have consistently opposed the de Blasio administration’s handling of education matters amid the COVID-19 crisis, and have proposed their own plans for the academic year that includes opening the semester remotely and phasing in on-site learning as safety standards are met.
“There are ways to address child care concerns, ways to better serve students most in need,” they added, “but ignoring these methods in favor of a broad reopening by an ever-shifting date has only created more chaos, including for parents whose own plans rely on a city that doesn’t have one.”
According to de Blasio and union leaders, the critical factor that led to the delay of in-person classes this time is a shortage of educators, particularly as the city is requiring separate teachers for in-person and remote classes.
“Our folks have been telling us and the teachers and the school leaders and all the folks that are working in the schools have been letting us know that right now, currently they're understaffed,” explained Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro. “Now we'll be able to staff up. We have a week or so to get people into buildings.”
The DOE intends to bring on an additional 4,500 new teachers, pulling from CUNY graduate students and substitutes to achieve its goal.
Cannizzaro however, says that number would only constitute enough to staff elementary school, and the principals union has called for a total of 10,000 new teachers to fill in the gaps at middle and high schools as well.
Due to the teacher shortage, the city in recent days has gone back on its promise to provide students with live online classes on the day’s they are remote. And some schools are planning to facilitate virtual classes for students even while they are physically on site.
Still, de Blasio is holding fast to his administration’s insistence that a return to in-person schooling is the best option for New York City students.
“We will always, as long as we need, provide remote education at the highest quality possible,” said the mayor, “but we also know nothing replaces the in-person experience.
“There are some out there who suggest that remote education should be our future and I want to say, no, it can't be,” he continued. “It is our educators working with children live and in-person in the classroom. That is where all of our future possibilities spring from because that's where children are truly moved.”