By Dylan Turkewitz
New York City, New York
After approximately two months of online learning, the New York City public schools reopened on February 25. According to Patch, nearly 471 middle schools were scheduled to reopen. In November, Mayor Bill de Blasio closed the public schools due to the city’s high COVID-19 infection rate, which exceeded 3%. In December, city officials decided to allow a hybrid learning system for elementary schools, but still kept middle and high schoolers remote.
According to The New York Times, on February 22, de Blasio said at a news conference, “Our schools have been remarkably safe, in fact the safest places in New York City…That’s why we know it’s time to bring back our middle-grade kids now.” He also said that the parents and students were ready to be back at school.
Nearly 38,000 educators have been vaccinated since December. In January, the United Federation of Teachers was initially opposed to the reopening of schools because vaccination rates were stagnant. Since then, the city has hired additional staff to manage weekly COVID-19 testing in middle schools to make the teachers feel safe. On February 24, vaccinated teachers and staff returned to school buildings to prepare the classrooms. According to Patch, 20% of randomly selected students and staff will be tested each week.
Although this was a significant step towards a full reopening, many students will still learn from home. The elementary and middle school students who opted for in-person learning will be rotating in and out of the classroom to accommodate for social distancing. 62,000 middle school students have returned to in-person learning, yet 70% of the students have decided to learn from home.
New York City school chancellor Richard A. Carranza said that nearly half of the middle schools reopening will be able to accommodate most students five days every day a week, and the other schools are moving in that direction in the imminent months. The remaining schools will prioritize their most vulnerable students of online learning, such as those with disabilities or an unstable household or multilingual students.
The teacher’s union has supported the closing of elementary schools temporarily throughout the school year. On February 22, roughly 9% of school buildings were temporarily closed for at least ten days, an additional 85 buildings were closed for minimally two hours and 585 classrooms were temporarily shut down.
Various studies have concluded that in-person learning is relatively safe as long as masks are worn and social distancing is maintained. When asked on February 22 whether his team was planning to reopen high schools by the spring of 2021, de Blasio said, “I want to get our high school kids back during the course of the current school year…There’s more work needed. High schools are a complex situation.” He said that the reopening of high schools is his next focus.