What to Know
- Roughly 75 percent of New York City parents want their kids to return to school in September, a new survey finds, while the rest are unsure
- While New Jersey and Connecticut have both begun to detail specific return-to-school guidelines for their states, New York City and state leaders have yet to release any comprehensive details
- Mayor Bill de Blasio has consistently said he wants as many kids to go back in person Sept. 10 as is safely possible. COVID measures may include staggered schedules, social distancing and mask requirements
An overwhelming majority of New York City parents want to send their children back to the five boroughs' public schools in September, but a surprising number of families aren't so eager to get back to in-person learning, according to a survey Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed at his daily COVID briefing Thursday.
The city's Department of Education surveyed more than 400,000 parents on back-to-school plans and needs; it found roughly 75 percent wanted to send their kids back to school in September, which leaves a full 25 percent still unsure.
"They feel ready now, they that's what they want so we're full steam ahead for September. The goal is to have the maximum number of kids in our schools," the mayor said.
The complete survey results weren't immediately available; it was conducted as part of the city's efforts to gage parent mindset as it works to develop multiple contingency plans and strategies to get kids safely back to class this fall.
De Blasio has repeatedly said the plan is to get as many students back for in-person learning as is safely possible when school is scheduled to reopen Sept. 10. The city has not revealed any specific school safety or scheduling plans as of yet, but de Blasio said safety measures will include enforced social distancing, mandatory face coverings, deep cleaning and hand sanitizing stations, among others.
"Schools will open in September," de Blasio affirmed Thursday. Each school will have a maximum number of students it can safely handle in person. He also warned parents to expect "staggering" as far as student schedules are concerned, meaning kids may not all go back to school at the same time or may only return for in-person learning on dedicated days. That's because in the nation's largest school system, spacing for social distancing is an issue.
"We know that there's sheer logistical challenges with schools that were overcrowded before the coronavirus, and now we have to practice social distancing, but we're going to make it work to the maximum in each school," the mayor said.
De Blasio said Thursday parents would be notified about their children's schedules well ahead of school starting so they can plan accordingly.
While the mayor believes schools will be open come the fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it's not that simple — marking the second time since the start of the pandemic that he and the mayor have not been on the same page regarding schools. In a statement, Cuomo said that de Blasio's announcement does not make it a final decision.
"The state law governing schools and business closings or openings has been in effect since the pandemic first started, and all decisions are made by state government, and not local government," the statement read in part. "The governor has said any determination is premature at this point and we will need to see how this virus develops."
While New Jersey and Connecticut have both begun to detail specific return-to-school guidelines for their states, New York City and state leaders have yet to release comprehensive plans. Gov. Cuomo has asked all districts to submit plans to his office for approval well ahead of September.
De Blasio danced around an exact date when asked about the city's timeline to submit those plans Thursday, but said he felt officials have provided at least some concrete plans in recent weeks to give parents at least a limited idea.
The United Federation of Teachers, the largest teachers union in NYC, sent out a letter Thursday evening stating that schools should only be opened "if the safety of students, staff and families is assured," and if schools agreed to adopt a package of protocols coming from the CDC. The union insists that any reopening must be based on scientific and medical assessments.
"As much as we want to be back in our classrooms, we can reopen school buildings only if robust health and safety protocols and procedures are in place that protect all of us. We must not repeat the mistakes of last March," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "Our city has been through too much — we have been through too much — to go backward. Decisions about reopening school buildings must be based on medical evidence."
In the letter, the union stated that the city must provide the necessary materials (such as PPE for students and staff), services (medical accommodations for staff, daily cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing) and plans for social distancing in classrooms that would allow for in-person instruction to resume.
In New York City, bits of insight have trickled out of the last month or so, though the various sources all say nothing has been decided for sure at this time. Most recently, a letter from a Brooklyn elementary school principal on the "grim reality" students may face in the fall riled parents frustrated by lacking childcare options.
Eve Litwack, principal of P.S. 107 in Park Slope, told parents that she's looking at the possibility of splitting classes into thirds; each group would have in-person instruction at most one day out of every three, with the other two days dedicated to remote learning. Masks could be required at all times except for during meals. In-person art, music, science and physical education may be a thing of the past.
As one parent who received the letter last month , "At a certain point this isn’t school anymore. Parents don’t know what to do.”
The city's Department of Education released a statement when asked about the principal's letter, saying in part, "We do not yet know what this virus will look like in September, but we are planning multiple reopening scenarios that will give every child the academic support they need while keeping them safe. Our goal is to provide as much in-person learning as possible."
City officials say building capacity would be adjusted to conform with CDC, state and city guidelines on public safety. Schools will also need ample PPE supplies and likely some means of monitoring health indicators to protect children, who may show different symptoms of COVID than adults or none at all. Temperature checks may also be a component of the multi-faceted strategy that'll be in place.