City Announces Preliminary Plan for Upcoming School Year

Mayor Bill de Blasio and DOE Chancellor Richard Carranza announce the City’s preliminary plan to reopen schools at a socially distanced press conference on July 8, 2020. Image Credit: Mayoral Photography Office

The City’s plan offers three basic models schools can base their scheduling on to rotate students between in-person and remote learning. On July 8, 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza announced the City’s preliminary plan to reopen public schools in September. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have physically been closed since mid-March and operated remotely for the remainder of the school year. The “blended learning” approach will allow for students to rotate in groups to have both in-person and remote instruction every week.

New York City Public Schools Reopening Plan

The plan provides three scheduling models that schools can choose from to maximize in person attendance while complying with health and safety guidance. When students are not attending in person, they would be attending remotely at home.

Model One is for schools that can accommodate at least 50 percent of their students with physical distancing of six feet between each student in classrooms. Under this model, students will be split into two groups – A and B – and will receive in person instruction the same two days each week and alternating Mondays. For example, Group A may attend Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Group B may attend Wednesdays and Fridays, but the groups would alternate on Mondays. This would allow students to receive five days of in-person instruction out of every two weeks. This model is the Chancellor’s recommended preference, and is available for all schools.

Model Two is for schools that can accommodate at least one third of their students with physical distancing requirements in place. Students will be split into three groups. Each group will have one consistent day of in-person instruction and week, and on the remaining two days the three groups will rotate. For example, Group A may attend Monday, B on Tuesday, and C on Wednesday, but the three would rotate on Thursdays and Fridays; each week one group would have only one day on in-person instruction. This will allow students to receive five days of in-person instruction every three weeks. This is the Chancellor’s preferred model for schools that can only handle one-third of their students at a time. This model is available for all schools.

Model Three also provides five days of in person instruction every three weeks, but operates on a six-day rotation. Students would be divided into three groups, and receive two days of in-person instruction out of every six days. Unlike the other models, Model Three does not have consistent days of attendance. For example, Group A may attend the first Monday and Tuesday, B on Wednesday and Thursday, and C on Friday and the following Monday. The rotation would then start over the next Tuesday. This model is only available for middle and high schools.

The DOE will also provide two additional models for District 75 schools, which serve students with disabilities.

In addition, all families will have the option to choose an all-remote schedule. This option is voluntary, and families will not need a medical reason to select this option. Families who choose this can evaluate their decisions at specific points during the school year and can choose to return to in-person learning.

New York City is the nation’s largest public school system, and is not alone in its decision to attempt a hybrid approach to the new school year. Some cities, including Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia, are proposing similar hybrid models like the New York City plan. Other cities, including Los Angeles, Houston, and Denver, have already opted to begin the school year remotely with plans to transition to in-person learning later in the school year if it would be safe to do so.

State Guidance

The City’s plan is not finalized, however, as Governor Andrew Cuomo will need to make the final decision about whether schools across New York State can open in the fall. Governor Cuomo tweeted that “a decision will be announced in the first week of August.” On July 13, 2020, Governor Cuomo announced that schools may only open in regions in Phase 4 or higher that have a daily infection rate below five percent using a 14-day average. Schools will close if the regional infection rate rises over nine percent after August 1st.

Governor Cuomo stated, “”Everybody wants to reopen schools, but you only reopen if it’s safe to reopen, and that’s determined by the data. You don’t hold your finger up and feel the wind, you don’t have an inspiration, you don’t have a dream, you don’t have an emotion – look at the data. . . We’re not going to use our children as the litmus test and we’re not going to put our children in a place where their health is endangered. It’s that simple. Common sense and intelligence can still determine what we do, even in this crazy environment. We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs.”

Mayor de Blasio clarified last week that the actual final decision to reopen schools will not be made until September. While the Governor’s decision can allow school districts to proceed, the City would only reopen schools if it was safe to do in September, noting the full month between when the Governor’s decision would be made and when school would be scheduled to start. Mayor de Blasio stated, “A lot can happen in a month. So I keep emphasizing this, health and safety first. We’re going to follow the data. We’re going to follow the science. Let us hope and pray and do the hard work to be in as good a situation as we are now or better at the time that school opens. But then again, final decisions will be made as we get right up to it, based on the data we have in front of us. But parents should be planning on the reopening of schools because that’s the direction we are building toward.”

Responses to the Plan

After the plan was announced, some council members voiced concerns about how a rotating school schedule could work for working families. To address concerns about childcare, on July 16th, the Mayor’s Office announced a plan to provide free childcare for 100,000 students in the fall. The free childcare will be offered to families with children from 3K through 8th grade, and will have approximately 50,000 seats a day. In conjunction with the City’s blended rotating school schedule, the City would be serving approximately 100,000 children. The City is in the process of identifying childcare locations.

There are additional concerns about whether the school reopening plan can be implemented at all in the City’s already overcrowded schools and whether it will actually be safe for students, teachers and school staff.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew stated, “Re-opening our schools will be a complex and difficult process, but we are not going to be careless with our students, their families, and our educators.”

The DOE will host Family and Student Information Sessions about the plan on July 28, August 12 and August 27th. For more information, click here.

CityLand is continuing to provide coverage of the City’s reopening and COVID-19 response. For more coverage, click here.

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2018.)


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