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De Blasio: City students to participate in 'blended learning'

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that 74% of students have opted in for in-person classes this fall and 85% of New York City schoolteachers will provide a mix of in-person and online instruction, 15% have requested to work exclusively from home due to safety concerns. Credit: NY Mayor's Office

More than three-quarters of New York’s 1.1 million public school students will participate in “blended learning” — a combination of classroom instruction and remote lessons — when city schools reopen in September, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials announced Monday. 

But with students scheduled to return in a month, the city still faces numerous challenges to reopen schools safely, de Blasio and other officials acknowledged during the mayor’s daily coronavirus briefing, They include a shortage of nurses, inadequate ventilation in many classrooms and a lack of space to promote proper social distancing. 

Most of the nation’s largest school districts, including Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, have opted to start the school year with online learning. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday that New York State’s 700-plus school districts can open for in-person education in the fall, now that New York — once the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic — has brought the average rate of positive coronavirus tests below 5%. 

“We’re the only major school district in America — the only major urban school district planning for in-person classes this fall,” de Blasio said. “And look, we've been very clear — we must do it safely, we can do it safely.”

De Blasio said about 770,000 students will participate in blended learning, while the remainder will receive remote instruction. New York City Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza said about 85% of Department of Education teachers will be involved in blended learning, while 15% will work online. Parents and students will begin to receive schedules for their schools next Monday. 

New York City school officials submitted a 109-page reopening plan to the state Friday but the city’s teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, has already expressed doubts about de Blasio’s ability to reopen schools safely. State education and health officials will have to approve reopening plans submitted New York City and other school systems in the state before students can return to the classroom.

Students and teachers will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing, Cuomo said, and the city’s plan calls for random temperature checks for students and teachers. Carranza urged parents to explain to their kids, and especially younger children, why it is important to wear a mask long before school starts. 

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“It’s not only a service to themselves, but to others to wear a mask,” Carranza said. “It’s an act of friendship. It’s an act of love.”

The mayor and the chancellor acknowledged much needs to be done, however, before schools can reopen next month. The city is working to address a shortage of school nurses, de Blasio said, and he said he is confident schools will have the personnel they need by the first day of school.

De Blasio also said the DOE is looking into obtaining spaces, including former Catholic school buildings, it can use to promote social distancing. School officials are also considering constructing large tents so schools can hold classes outdoors.

Many classrooms also have poor ventilation, and de Blasio said teachers should keep windows open whenever possible, while Carranza said the DOE has already begun to address classrooms with inadequate ventilation.

 “Look, there's a small number of classrooms that there's been some issues with, if the classroom is not ready, that classroom simply will not be used.” de Blasio said.

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