New York City high schools to reopen in pandemic milestone

New York City will welcome high school students to classrooms beginning March 22, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday, a major milestone in the city’s sometimes hesitant efforts to resume in-person instruction. for some of his one million students.

At a time when instruction in some Northeast cities and many on the West Coast remains completely remote for high school students and even some elementary students, New York’s decision to bring high school students back, a vast majority of them low-income, black and Latino – will be seen as an important precedent. The city’s public school system is by far the largest in the country.

The reopening of the high schools will be the first big task facing the new principal of schools, Meisha Porter, who will replace the outgoing principal, Richard A. Carranza, on March 15th.

About half of the city’s 488 high schools will offer full-time instruction for most or all of its students in person, while the other half will offer hybrid instruction. The city will also restart high school sports for all students, including those who have decided to learn remotely. The sports season will be extended through the summer of this year, rather than ending with the school year, and students will be required to wear masks at all times.

Even with the return of up to 55,000 high school students who signed up for face-to-face classes last fall and haven’t been in classrooms since November, out of a total population of 282,000 high school students, only about a third of all students in the city. you will receive any instructions in person. The remaining 700,000 students throughout the city system have chosen to receive instruction remotely, largely due to lingering concerns about the health risks of the coronavirus.

In other large school districts, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Seattle, many thousands of high school students have not received in-person instruction in the past year and may not regain access to their classrooms for months.

Although some large districts in the South, including Houston, Miami, and Broward County in Florida, are open to all grades, other districts have focused on bringing back elementary school students first. This is because remote learning is particularly challenging for younger children and research has found that in-person learning can be safer with younger children than older ones.

Yet high school students in New York and across the country have struggled immensely with the social isolation of remote learning. Teens have been stuck in their rooms for months, unable to see their friends or connect face-to-face with their teachers. Some districts are seeing higher than average student suicide rates.

New York’s push to bring tens of thousands of high school students back to classrooms will allow some seniors to reunite, and will bolster the mayor’s record on reopening schools, a top priority for him during the pandemic.

The next phase of school reopens comes with important caveats. For now at least, only high school students who signed up for face-to-face classes last fall will be able to return to classrooms, joining elementary students, who returned in December, and high school students, who returned late last month. . That means only about a third of the city’s 1 million students are eligible for in-person learning for the remainder of this school year, which ends June 25.

Some high school students who returned to classrooms in the fall may not even return this spring, either because they have adapted to remote learning or due to concerns about a high rate of virus positivity and the threat of new variants.

Middle and high school students were able to attend classes in person for only about six weeks last fall before the entire system shut down in November due to rising virus rates. High schools are the latest to reopen in part due to a lack of testing capacity and because some high schools have been used as vaccination centers for New Yorkers.

Even in October and November, some high school students only had a few days of in-person learning, rotating between school buildings and virtual lessons at home to allow for social distancing.

That hybrid learning model proved challenging for many high schools, with some large schools telling students that they could offer regular class schedules only if the majority of students were home-schoolers full-time.

Some high schools ended up offering remote instruction even for children physically returning to classrooms. Those students sat in front of their laptops, taking online courses in their school buildings rather than in their living rooms. It’s unclear whether high schools will continue that pattern, which frustrated many parents, in the spring.

With more than half the school year over, Mr. de Blasio has focused most of his effort on reopening classrooms, rather than improving online instruction for the hundreds of thousands of students who have chosen to learn at home. this school year.

Many parents and educators have said they wish there was a greater focus on online classes, particularly since non-white families have chosen not to participate in in-person learning at higher rates than white families.

The mayor has spent months negotiating the gradual reopening of classrooms with the United Federation of Teachers, a powerful force in city politics that has won a number of security measures, including a rule that school buildings must be closed temporarily when two cases of undetected virus are found.

That rule has led to hundreds of 10-day school closures in recent weeks alone, which has been extremely damaging to working parents and their children. De Blasio has said that he would consider changing the rule, but there are no changes to the security protocols yet.

Although the relationship between Mr. de Blasio and the UFT has grown increasingly strained over the past year, the union eventually sent many of its members back to the classroom long before they were vaccinated. Vaccines have become a stumbling block in the reopening of other unions, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said that teachers’ vaccinations should not be a condition for reopening.

New York teachers have had access to the vaccine since January, meaning that many educators returning to high school classrooms will have been vaccinated against the virus. But even before teachers or staff were vaccinated, the city’s schools were relatively safe places, with very little transmission of the virus in schools and no major outbreaks.

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