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July 02, 2020

New York City Schools Plan Still Unclear, but Some Students, Teachers Will Stay Home

New York City’s K-12 public schools need to clear significant hurdles before city officials will move forward with a final plan to reopen in September, union and city officials involved in the talks said this week.

The proposed plan currently embraced by the New York City Department of Education, like many districts across the nation, is to offer a mix of in-person and remote instruction this fall.

But before the Education Department announces a final reopening plan in coming weeks, school officials have to figure out how to accommodate teachers and students who need or want to work remotely while balancing the staffing needs in the schools. As many as 20% of the city’s 80,000 teachers could end up working remotely due to “high-risk medical conditions” that could make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

And many kids may stay home, too. The Education Department released a family survey on Thursday that showed 22% of families are “not at all comfortable” with returning to campus in the fall and 26% of families prefer for their students to continue to learn remotely.

“Probably every kid will not be there, to say the least,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a Thursday press conference. “Seventy-five percent will, I believe; 25% may not.”

Additionally, officials are racing to figure out how to reconfigure buildings and classrooms to meet safety requirements, how to offer the right mix of in-person and remote instruction and where to get more money to pay for it.

“We know that principals need ample time to plan for fall and we’ve been providing information as we have it to our school leaders,” said Education Department spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon. “We’re working through an exhaustive set of scenarios.”

The Education Department’s “Return to School” survey that wrapped up on June 30 asked whether students and families preferred to return to school on alternate days, alternating weeks or to learn at home every day. Of the 300,000 families and 110,000 students who responded, 72% of parents said they prefer to send their students back to class if safety measures are in place; 53% of families said they would prefer attending school on alternating days; 26% prefer to learn from home every day and 19% prefer attending school on alternating weeks.

That means the Education Department will have to balance the needs of a significant number of its parents who have said they want to keep their children home in the fall alongside the interests of those looking to schools for face-to-face instruction, child supervision and consistent meals.

“Parents’ work schedules rely on the supervision provided by schools, because the schools are safe places for their children to go,” Kristin Kearns-Jordan, CEO of the Urban Assembly, said in an interview before the release of the survey results. Urban Assembly is a nonprofit that serves a network of 23 public schools partnered with the city’s Department of Education. “There are all kinds of considerations for families as they look at their income and as we look at the economy,” Ms. Kearns-Jordan said.



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