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Delay in NYC schools reopening solves some issues, but questions remain

Posted at 8:59 AM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-07 10:25:41-04

NEW YORK CITY — Parents, students and teachers in New York City are preparing Wednesday for a revised plan to start the academic year after Mayor Bill de Blasio delayed the reopening of school buildings.

The mayor said the decision, announced on Tuesday, will give teachers more time to prepare for blended learning as well as to ensure the health and safety of students and staff.

Students, teachers and staff were initially expected to return to classrooms on Sept. 10 to begin the year with blended learning, which involves a weekly mix of in-person and remote instruction, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, teachers will start the year with six days of preparations on Sept. 8, 9, 10, 11, 14 and 15. Students will then begin the school year with transitional remote instruction on Sept. 16, 17 and 18. School buildings will reopen and blended learning will begin on Sept. 21, the mayor said.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, speaking Wednesday on the PIX11 Morning News, said the first three days of remote instruction will be used as a transitional period to connect students with their teachers and make sure they have everything they need for blended learning.

“It’s making sure we have a safe, orderly start to the school year. And as we were getting closer to that Sept. 10 deadline, it became apparent that we just needed more time,” Carranza said of the decision to push the dates back. “This will give us the time that we need to make sure the safety and health protocols are in place, but it will also allow us to make sure that the remote learning plans are in place and teachers have time to check in with students.”

Parent advocate weighs in

Angela Torres, a parent advocate in District 8 in the Bronx who was critical of the original plan to start blended learning on Sept. 10, told the PIX11 Morning News on Wednesday the delay was a welcome surprise but that there is still more work to be done.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but we’re one step in and a mile to go with minutes to finish,” she said. “I really think this is just the beginning of it. We still don’t have a sufficient number of nurses, and even though the ventilation systems were tested it was a rushed thing and parents still don’t have any reports on that, so we’re not 100% sure we’re going to be ready.”

School buildings in the city were supposed to be inspected by teams of engineers by Tuesday. Ventilation system reports are expected to be released as early as Friday.

Busing is another unanswered question for parents and students who rely on the city for transportation to and from school.

“Busing continues to be one of those issues that is very difficult, but we are going to have more to say about this in the next day or so. We are, right now, in the final stages of contracts,” Carranza said. “We’re prioritizing students with disabilities for busing.”

Election Day poses problems

The city Department of Education is also working with election officials to find alternative polling sites for Election Day, such as Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center.

Carranza said students and staff at school buildings that must be used as polling sites will have remote instruction on Election Day. After the polls close, the buildings will undergo deep cleaning and disinfecting to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, he said.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers union, told the PIX11 Morning News on Wednesday that the union is working with the city to try to get as many polling sites outside of the schools as possible.

“I understand that’s a major shift because New York City is so large,” Mulgrew said. “We’re working very hard right now with the city and with the agencies to try to find alternative spaces because the more people inside of a building the more problems you could have, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

Mulgrew joined de blasio on Tuesday for the announcement that school reopening would be delayed under a deal reached between union and the city. The UFT had threatened a strike over what it considered to be safety protocols that did not meet the standards of independent medical experts.

Under the new agreement, every school will need to pass a 50-point safety plan before the building can reopen for blended learning. Students and staff will also have to take part in a mandatory monthly COVID-19 testing program.

Editor's note: The date teachers first report to school buildings has been corrected.