After a rollercoaster year of blended learning, last minute closures, and on-again-off-again schooling by screen, many families in the New York City public school system have been hungry for information about what the next school year will look like. For weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised that all schools would be fully open in September, but he announced another decision on Monday: The city will not offer remote-only learning. This is what we know right now about what the new normal at New York City’s public schools will look like this fall.
Will there be in-person classes for all public school students five days a week?
Yes. It’s largely a return to school as we used to know it: all students sitting at desks in classrooms, Monday through Friday, taught by instructors who are teaching right in front of them. Mayor de Blasio said he wants all students back in school buildings, because he believes that is where most of them do best — not just academically, but also socially and emotionally.
Will there be remote learning?
Very little. There is no longer an option for students to choose to learn virtually from home full time. This follows a similar move by New Jersey to eliminate remote learning. But students will still learn remotely on Election Day and snow days. If a student tests positive for COVID-19 and has to quarantine or is sick from something else, de Blasio said it’s possible they will do their schoolwork through “digital learning packages” while they’re out. The city will continue to offer the home instruction it had in place before the pandemic to students with medical conditions that require it. Families can also apply to homeschool their children.
Is this the end of ‘Zoom in a Room,’ where students in school learn virtually from teachers at home?
Yes. “Because everything’s going to be in-person. Period.” de Blasio said.
Will all students be able to fit in buildings if social distancing requirements are still in place?
Unclear. Education department officials testified at a City Council hearing last week that almost all public schools could fit students in buildings at the current social distancing requirement of three-feet-apart. They said it would be “a challenge” to accommodate the entire student body at roughly 10% of schools, and those schools may have to use auditoriums or gyms to supplement classrooms. But administrators have raised concerns about space and staffing if students must remain several feet away from each other. De Blasio said the city will continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing, but he expects the feds will “relax” their recommendations by September.
Can teachers still get medical accommodations?
Not like last year. This past school year, staff could apply to teach from home if they were over 65, had pre-existing health conditions that made them vulnerable to the virus, or if they lived with an especially vulnerable relative. But now there will be no health accommodations that allow teachers to teach from home. School staff can still apply for the same accommodations that were available to them before the pandemic.
Will students and staff be vaccinated?
Unlikely. The state is in charge of whether vaccinations are required for students. But it’s difficult for governments to require vaccines, including all the COVID-19 vaccines, when they are still under emergency use authorization. Governor Cuomo said he expects the vaccines to be fully approved for adults 18 and up by fall and is requiring them for all students at the state’s public colleges and universities. But he has not said whether he will do the same for public school students. The state does not currently require any vaccines for school staff. Mayor de Blasio has said he opposes requiring vaccines for students to attend because schools have already proven to be safe.
How can I learn more about what school will be like this fall?
There will be lots of opportunities, according to city officials. Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter is holding virtual town hall meetings in every borough, and starting in June, the city is calling on principals to offer tours so families can see the precautions in place and ask questions.
Will families come back?
That’s the big question. More than 60% of families chose to remain remote through the end of this academic year. Many of them said they are still not ready to commit to coming back in-person. Some cite health risks, especially for unvaccinated children. Others said schools have never adequately served students of color and are reluctant to send them back. In some cases, students have thrived in remote learning. Enrollment has already declined by 43,000 students during the pandemic.