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NYC mayor, schools chancellor urge parents to send kids back to classrooms for blended learning

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday called for the New York City Board of Elections to bring out more machines to help move the long early voting lines that formed over the weekend. "The Board of Elections needs to step up. This is a historic moment," de Blasio said. "They need to act like it's a historic moment." Credit: NYC Mayor's Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City schools chancellor Richard Carranza on Monday urged parents to send their children back to classrooms for blended learning next month, arguing that the Department of Education has proven it can open schools safely despite the coronavirus pandemic.

About half of New York City’s public school students are attending school remotely, but de Blasio and Carranza said the DOE has shown it can offer blended learning — a combination of remote and in-person classes — without triggering coronavirus outbreaks.

De Blasio said the latest data from the random testing at hundreds of schools across New York shows the positivity rate for COVID-19 is 0.15%, which the mayor called an "extraordinary achievement for our public schools."

"Our schools are safe," de Blasio said during his daily coronavirus briefing. "It has been proven over and over again."

Carranza said that parents can opt in to blended learning between Monday and Nov. 15. Officials had previously said students can return to in-person learning at any time.

De Blasio said attendance at city schools is down compared to pre-pandemic school years. Remote attendance is 85.5% while attendance for in-person learning is 82.9%. Attendance in previous years was about 91%, according to the mayor.

"Now that we've been able to show how our schools are working, it's time for an opt-in period, it's time to give parents and students a chance to come back into the schools," de Blasio said.

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The mayor also criticized the Board of Elections for the long lines outside polling places over the weekend and called on the agency to expand early voting hours and bring in additional voting machines.

More than 193,000 city residents voted in person on Saturday and Sunday, the first time New York has allowed early voting during a presidential election. Lines outside many polling places were blocks long, and many voters had to wait several hours before they could cast ballots.

De Blasio would not say the long lines amounted to voter suppression as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens) said earlier Monday, but he did say the lengthy waits discourage citizens from casting ballots.

"The Board of Elections was clearly not prepared for this kind of turnout, and needs to make adjustments immediately," de Blasio said. "Long lines tell people to go home. That’s just the reality."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also expressed frustration with the Board of Elections on Monday.

"I think the Board of Elections in New York City did a terrible job, a terrible job, and it’s not the first time," Cuomo said.

The city is prepared to provide money and support if the Board Elections said it does not have the resources to expand voting hours or add voting machines.

The Board of Elections is run by commissioners picked by political parties and not directly controlled by the city or state. De Blasio said he is willing to work with Cuomo to develop legislation to abolish the board and come up with a new agency for next year’s election.

"The Board of Elections is a vestige of a corrupt past. It just doesn’t make sense," de Blasio said. "It is a vestige of Tammany Hall. How on Earth is the election system run by party officials instead of nonpartisan public employees?"

Cuomo agreed that change was sorely needed.

"I would be open to an entire redesign of the New York City Board of Elections system...I'd be open to whatever the city proposes to just redesign from the ground up," the governor said Monday.

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