New York City public high schools will reopen their doors on March 22 for in-person classroom learning, four months after they were shuttered because of rising COVID-19 cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.
Meanwhile, a steady decline in coronavirus cases, along with the warmer weather, will allow for the return of all sports for both in-person and fully remote students through the city's Public Schools Athletic League by mid-April, de Blasio said at his daily news conference.
"We are ready to go," de Blasio said. "We have all the pieces we need to bring high schools back and to bring it back strong and of course to bring it back safely."
Roughly 55,000 students in grades 9-12 who opted in for in-person learning are expected to return to high school buildings — with about half of them able to attend classes close to five days a week, officials said. About 17,000 high school employees will return to their buildings beginning March 18 and 19 to prepare for the reopening.
"And we will continue to ramp that up the way we did with elementary and middle schools," said new Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, adding that city schools have a .57% positivity rate since October.
Reopened high school buildings will be required to test at least 20% of students and staff weekly while continuing with masking, social distancing requirements and a nightly deep cleaning of buildings, Porter said.
There is no immediate plan to allow those who opted out of in-person learning earlier this year to opt back in, de Blasio said.
The city closed the entire public schools system in November as COVID-19 cases spiked. The system has gradually reopened, first with elementary and pre-K students and last month with middle school students.
School athletics, which have been closed since the spring, will also resume next month and be extended through August to allow for a full season.
Athletes will be tested weekly, masks will be mandatory, practices and games will be largely held outdoors and spectators will be prohibited, at least initially, de Blasio said.
In a letter to his members, UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised them for "awe-inspiring" hard work during the year.
"We know just how challenging it has been for you to keep your high school students focused and engaged in remote learning," he wrote. "Many of you have had to use all the creativity and ingenuity you could muster to teach hands-on skills through a computer screen."
Mulgrew pointed out that no high school students will be allowed to participate for in-person learning without a COVID-19 testing consent.
He urged educators who want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to contact the union's vaccine program or the city's dedicated sites for Department of Education employees.
With Lisa L. Colangelo