As many as 90,000 children — pre-K students as well as those with disabilities — returned Monday to New York City classrooms that had been shuttered since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who visited the Mosaic Pre-K Center in Elmhurst Queens early Monday, said he saw "pure joy" as the students arrived about two weeks after schools citywide were originally slated to open.
"To see those children so engaged, so happy to be there, it was truly inspiring," de Blasio said.
New York City, once the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, is now one of the few cities in the nation where some students have returned to classrooms. With 1.1 million students, the city's school system is the largest in the nation.
Schools were scheduled to reopen Sept. 10 but de Blasio initially delayed it until Monday after fierce pressure from unions, teachers, principals and parents, who say many of the Department of Education’s 1,400 school buildings lack proper ventilation, staff and supplies. United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew threatened to strike over safety issues.
Last week, the mayor announced a staggered reopening: Elementary school students will start in-person learning Sept. 29. Middle and high school students will return Oct. 1.
As part of the plan, children in Pre-K and students with disabilities returned to class Monday.
About 40% of families have opted out of in-person classes through at least November and will do online-only learning. De Blasio said online learning has been frustrating for many families and is not as enriching as in-person education. He said it was especially important for schools to open for low-income students.
De Blasio said hundreds of thousands of students are expected to return to school by Oct. 1, but it’s not clear how many actually will. Families can opt out of in-person classes at any time.
The mayor said he was impressed with the precautions the Mosaic Pre-K Center took Monday to protect staff and students from the deadly virus, including doing temperature checks and emphasizing social distancing.
"Everyone was wearing a mask and those 4-year-olds were wearing their masks with no problem at all … that is going to be crucial to everybody’s safety," de Blasio said.