NYC to phase out distance learning for next school year

New York City will no longer have a distance education option in the fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday, a major step towards the full reopening of the nation’s largest school system after more than one year of disruption caused by the pandemic.

The announcement represents the most important decision the city has faced regarding the reopening of the school, and means that all students and staff will be back in the buildings full time.

A reopened school system is perhaps the most crucial marker of New York’s recovery. Many parents will be able to return to work without supervising their children’s online classes, potentially revitalizing entire industries and neighborhoods.

“We cannot have a full recovery without full power schools,” said De Blasio during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”.

The mayor’s announcement removed the biggest logistical obstacle to reopening the school system. But Mr de Blasio must, in his final months as mayor, try to convince hesitant families and staff that schools are sure to return to normal.

This school year, the majority of the city’s roughly one million students – around 600,000 – have stayed home for lessons. A disproportionate number of families who chose online learning were not white, reflecting the disproportionate health outcomes suffered by black and Latin families especially when the city became a global epicenter of the virus in the spring. latest.

The mayor also said teachers and school staff, who have been eligible for the vaccine since January, will no longer be granted a medical exemption to work from home. Almost a third of the city’s teachers work from home, forcing some schools to only offer online learning, even from school buildings.

Although reopened classrooms have been relatively safe since last fall, with very low rates of viral positivity in school and few outbreaks, the pandemic has revealed a deep lack of trust between many families of color in particular and the city’s school system.

In interviews, some parents who were hoping for a distance option in the fall said they would consider home schooling. New York, like many other districts, has already seen enrollment plummet during the pandemic, and more parents withdrawing from the public school system could threaten the district’s funding and resources.

Mr de Blasio said the city will hold open days for distant parents to visit their school buildings next month. But he said eliminating distance education was a critical part of the city’s drive to overcome the pandemic.

“We have to understand that we are leaving Covid behind,” he said at a press conference on Monday. “We cannot live under the influence of Covid the rest of our lives.” Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said she would continue to hold virtual town halls for parents to ask about the reopening, even though she believed most parents were eager to attend full-time classes.

New York is one of the first major cities in the country to remove the distance learning option altogether for the next school year, making widespread predictions that online courses are a must for school districts appear. premature. Governor Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, announced last week that the state would no longer have distant classes in the fall. Executives in Massachusetts and Illinois, as well as San Antonio, Texas, said remote options would be extremely limited.

Education officials in Florida have said they will drastically reduce or even eliminate online classes next year, and the Miami-Dade school principal said he expected all students are coming back this fall. Houston, one of the largest districts in the country, will retain a remote option for the fall, as will Philadelphia.

Mr de Blasio said the city will not offer any virtual training next year, except on snowy days, which are rare in New York. The mayor has tried to position himself as a leader on reopening schools, especially as other Democratic-led cities delayed their own plans to reopen last summer and fall.

“We have opened the largest school system in the country when other cities dared not,” said de Blasio on Monday.

Last summer, Mr de Blasio fought with the city’s powerful teachers ‘union, the United Teachers’ Federation, for the reopening. But now the union is adhering to the city plan.

“There is no substitute for in-person teaching,” said Michael Mulgrew, union president, in a statement. “Educators in New York City want their students to be physically in front of them.”

Mark Cannizzaro, president of the city managers union, thanked the mayor for making the announcement with enough time to start planning for the fall. Last year, the city rolled out its plan to reopen schools in July, which was far too late for principals to plan schedules and staffing.

The New York school system, like districts across the country, has struggled to make distance learning a success.

Although some students and families said that a distance option worked for them and allowed them to focus on lessons without distraction, online learning was frustrating for the vast majority of students and disastrous for others. , including many children with disabilities. Mr de Blasio, who has been criticized for not doing more to improve the quality of online education, argued that distance learning is inherently inferior, a view shared by many education experts. .

It has also been extremely complex for the city to manage two parallel school systems, one in person and one online, with many students switching between them every few days. The fact that so many students and teachers are learning and working from home makes it almost impossible for some schools to offer normal hours. The challenges of blended learning have been felt by districts across the country, but are particularly acute in New York City, with its 1,800 schools.

In recent months, Mr de Blasio had said he expected the city to keep some sort of distance learning option for the fall. But he and his aides have changed their minds in recent weeks, he told a press conference, as virus rates plummeted across town and children 12 and older were eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

On Monday, the city’s average positive test rate fell to just over 1%, the lowest number since last September. About four million New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including thousands of children.

The city does not yet require that eligible students or staff be vaccinated before returning to class this fall, and just under half of educators have yet to get vaccinated. If many more teachers are not vaccinated by September, it could undermine the city’s plan to reopen and the mayor’s pledges on epidemic prevention.

Mr de Blasio said all students and adults should wear masks in schools this fall, according to current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But he said that requirement could change if the CDC relaxed its guidelines.

The mayor also said he expected the CDC to drop its current rules on keeping students three feet apart in classrooms before the start of the next school year, although he has added that the vast majority of schools could be suitable for all students, even with social distancing.

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