Mayor Bill de Blasio predicted that the CDC will further relax its social distancing guidelines for public schools by the start of the fall 2021 term.
MANHATTAN (CN) — Come September, New York City public schools will open fully in-person, with no option for students to attend school remotely, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday.
“One million kids will be back in their classroom in September, all in person, no remote,” de Blasio said of the country’s largest public school system, first breaking the news on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” before holding his own City Hall announcement.
The mayor noted that nearly 8 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in New York City so far, saying that Covid-19 rates are “plummeting.”
“It’s just amazing to see the forward motion right now, the recovery that’s happening in New York City,” de Blasio said. “But you can’t have a full recovery without full strength schools: everyone back, sitting in those classrooms, kids learning again.”
Public schools shut down in March 2020 and reopened in the fall of last year with both in-person and remote-learning options. Most parents chose to put their kids in school online only.
The New York City school system’s Covid-19 testing program, which has included random screens of students and staff members, has reported very low rates of Covid-19 transmission.
Mayor de Blasio attributed this success to masking, cleaning and ventilation, all of which will continue when schools go fully in-person for the fall — albeit a “different version for different times.”
While the Centers for Disease Control and prevention currently recommend a distance of 3 feet between people in schools, in addition to universal masking, de Blasio said he believes the CDC will “be changing those rules quite a bit between now and September.”
“But right now in New York City, we could have every child three feet apart, we could make that work if we had to,” he said.
De Blasio also encouraged parents to visit schools for a firsthand glimpse of safety precautions.
“Anyone who has a question or concern, come into your child’s school,” he said. “See what’s going on, get the answers.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, was supportive of the move to return to schools in person.
“There is no substitute for in-person instruction,” Mulgrew said in a statement Monday. “We want as many students back in school as safely possible.”
Mulgrew praised the Department of Education’s open houses for parents, but said questions remain about how some kids will attend class in the fall.
“We still have concerns about the safety of a small number of students with extreme medical challenges,” he said. “For that small group of students, a remote option may still be necessary.”
In response to Mulgrew, de Blasio said that students with “very particular, severe circumstances” will be covered by school rules that “existed before we ever heard of Covid.”
Public schools in neighboring New Jersey will also return to in-person-only learning this fall, as Governor Phil Murphy recently announced.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials plans to offer in-person class five days a week, but will keep around its remote option, citing the need for some kids to stay home — if they live with an immune-compomised person, for example.
No Covid-19 vaccine is available yet for kids in the United States. Pfizer is so far leading the charge on vaccines for younger people, authorized for those ages 12 and up. The company plans to submit its request to expand use down to age 2 in September.
The risk of kids getting sick from Covid-19 is much smaller than that of adults; reopening schools has been viewed as a delicate trade-off between protecting physical and mental health.
“I think that the childhood experience that our kids have gone through will have long-lasting consequences that may extend across generations, to be honest,” said Dr. Grace Lee, a member of the CDC committee that unanimously voted in favor of expanding the Pfizer vaccine to 12-year-olds.
“We don’t really fully yet understand the total … physical health, mental health and educational impact of the pandemic on our kids,” said Lee, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine.