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Come September, NYC Students Will Return to Classrooms in Shifts

New York City’s 1.1 million public school students will not return to their classrooms full-time in September, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, unveiling plans for a “blended learning” model that balances online teaching with in-person classes two or three days a week.

MANHATTAN (CN) — New York City’s 1.1 million public school students will not return to their classrooms full-time in September, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, unveiling plans for a “blended learning” model that balances online teaching with in-person classes two or three days a week.

With some 1,800 locations, New York City schools have been closed since March 16 due to the novel coronavirus. As remote online education abruptly replaced in-person classes, de Blasio made thousands of iPads, laptops and tablets available to students over the intervening months.

Even as the pandemic is worsening in other parts of the country, however, some families and government officials want lockdown measures loosened. The Democratic de Blasio announced his plan to reopen public schools for the 2020-21 school year in a virtual briefing this morning.

“When we know that health and safety means social distancing, therefore we have to use a lot more space for fewer kids, it makes very clear, the approach we will use is blended learning,” de Blasio said, speaking from Manhattan. “And blended learning simply means at some points in the week, you're learning in person in the classroom; at other points in a week, you're learning remotely,” the mayor added.

The mayor presented two proposed plans for the school year. In the first, schools that have the capacity for 50% of their students to be in the building at any given time with split their population into two even groups that alternate between two days of remote learning each week and two days of classes in-person, with a third in-person day every other week.

The second model assumes the schools can accommodate only 33% of their student population at a given time. Here, there would be one consistent day of the week the student will be in-person, with Monday and Tuesday rotating among groups over a three-week cycle.

Families can opt for fully remote education at any time and will be allowed to transition back into in-person instruction on a quarterly basis, de Blasio said. 

New York City Public Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the optimum class size is between 9 and 12 students in most physical spaces.

At a separate briefing in Albany on Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that state will decide whether schools will reopen in the fall during the first week of August. Cuomo said the state is consulting with stakeholders on guidance, which will be finalized on July 13.

The governor noted all of the state’s 700 school districts including those in New York City face a July 31 deadline to submit a reopening plan for the state’s approval.

Cuomo told reporters Wednesday he has the ultimate authority to say whether and how any school districts reopen. “Our institutional systemic drop dead date is the first week in August, so we will make that decision the first week in August,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo also rebutted President Donald Trump’s recent pushes to reopen schools in September.

“School reopenings are a state decision. Period,” Cuomo said during the briefing. “That is the law, and that is the way we’re going to proceed. It’s not up to the president of the United States.”

The United Federation of Teachers, a union that represents most public school teachers in New York City, said in tweet Wednesday: "Re-opening our schools will be a complex and difficult process, but we are not going to be careless with our students, their families, and our educators."

Speaking by phone on Wednesday, UFT president Michael Mulgrew said today’s announcements signaled that the various parties are headed in the right direction of having a thorough plan to safely reopen New York City’s public schools.  

“This is just step one, we still have a long way to go, that plan is nowhere near finalized,” Mulgrew said. “I think we’re all moving toward the same place. As long as everyone’s following the medical and the professional guidelines and not political guidelines, we’re going to be fine.”

New York State United Teachers United Teachers, a statewide union with more than 600,000 members, said Wednesday that federal and state funding will be necessary to implement a safe and equitable return to in-person education in the state. 

“Health and safety of students, families, educators and other school staff, and equitable access to a high-quality education must be the top priorities in reopening schools. The federal government’s demands that schools reopen without concern for health, safety and equity are simply out of touch,” New York State United Teachers president Andy Pallotta said a statement. “Thankfully here in New York, we know the governor, the Regents and fellow education stakeholders are taking this seriously,” he added.

Joined by first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials, President Trump pushed for the reopening of K-12 schools and universities during a roundtable Tuesday at the White House,

claiming that “the moms want it, the dads want it.”

“We want to get them open quickly, beautifully in the fall,” Trump said. “As you know this is a horrible disease, young people do extraordinarily well.”

Reopening any segment of society remains a controversial issue as a vaccination against the novel coronavirus is still months, if not years, away.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Monday that the U.S. is still “knee-deep” in the first wave of infections.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday acknowledged emerging evidence the new coronavirus may be dangerously transmitted through the air in poorly ventilated indoor environments such as bars, churches, schools and meat factories.

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