Thousands of New York City’s youngest students will return to schools closed since Nov. 19 because of a surge in coronavirus cases beginning Dec. 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday, although officials have yet to determine when high schools and middle schools can resume in-person learning.
Students in grades K-5, as well as children enrolled in 3-K and Pre-K programs, can return to their schools on Dec. 7. Schools serving students with special needs will reopen on Dec. 10, de Blasio said during his daily virus briefing.
‘‘We’re convinced we can keep schools safe and do it in a sustainable manner," de Blasio said.
Public health officials have said they fear a deadly spike in coronavirus cases over the next few weeks because of Thanksgiving gatherings and holiday travel. But de Blasio said city officials are confident they can reopen schools safely by beefing up testing. Twenty percent of students at every city school will undergo testing every week instead of monthly random testing.
"The amount of testing is a crucial piece of the equation," de Blasio said. "So since we're moving to weekly testing, that's going to take a lot of capacity. We wanted to make sure we can do that consistently and well and that's why it's important to go by phases."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo endorsed the city's plan in a telephone briefing with reporters later on Sunday.
"I think that’s the right direction," Cuomo said. "We do have new facts and new information on schools and just about every professional says the schools, especially K-8, should be kept open whenever it’s possible to keep them open safely."
De Blasio said he is encouraging schools to open for five days a week of in-person learning whenever possible, a step towards eventually ending the hybrid learning, which combined having some students attending school a few days a week with learning remotely.
The mayor said the city is abandoning the 3% positivity threshold for closing the nation’s largest school system and will instead rely on aggressive testing and the Department of Education’s "Situation Room" — the liaison between schools and the Department of Health and Mental Health and the Test & Trace Corps — to determine when individual schools need to be shut down. Sunday’s rolling average was 3.9%.
"We are supportive of a phased reopening of schools in other neighborhoods as long as stringent testing is in place," said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. "This strategy — properly implemented — will allow us to offer safe in-person instruction to the maximum number of students until we beat the pandemic."
Schools in high-impact red and orange coronavirus zones will continue to abide by the state’s 3% threshold, although de Blasio said the city will work to resume in-person learning in those communities as quickly as possible.
Parents and guardians will be required to sign testing consent forms before their children can attend in-person classes. High schools and middle schools will reopen once officials are confident the city has the capacity to test older students, too, according to de Blasio. The city is beginning with younger students, de Blasio said, because studies show they have been less affected by the virus than older kids. De Blasio said schools are also important for parents of younger students who lack daycare options.
Only about a third of the city’s 1.1 million students — about 330,000 — participated in hybrid learning, a combination of virtual and in-person classes.
About 190,000 of those students are eligible to return to school the week of Dec. 7, de Blasio said. The remaining students are enrolled in high schools and middle schools.
"This will be the model for the duration," de Blasio said. "This is what is going to take use through to when we have a vaccine."