What to Know
- An estimated 51,000 students across all grade levels in the NYC public school system can return for in-person learning by the end of April
- Mayor de Blasio announced middle and high school students can return April 26, in addition to the youngest grades - which were the initial focus of the latest opt-in window
- DOE numbers show roughly half of those students returning for in-person learning are in elementary grade levels
The opt-in window for New York City schools has closed and some 51,000 students throughout the public system have been given the green light to return to their classrooms for in-person learning later this month.
That newest batch of students eager to return to classrooms can do so starting April 26, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday. The welcome back date also applies to the middle and high school students who opted back in in recent weeks. Previously, the city had said elementary students would be the first to return followed later by the older grades.
New York City reopened its opt-in window March 24 through April 9, giving students across all boroughs the first chance to change their learning preferences for the first time since last year. For the last months of the current school year, approximately 365,000 out of 960,000 non-charter public school students will be back in school buildings.
The largest group heading back into school buildings are the youngest grade levels. The Department of Education says nearly half of those opting back into the classroom are elementary grade students. For the older grade levels, roughly 10,000 middle school and 13,000 high school students could be heading back at the end of the month.
"None of this would be possible without our resilient principals, educators, staff and families, and I thank them for their tireless efforts to ensure every student who wants the opportunity to have an in-person learning experience has one," said NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter.
De Blasio said he was not surprised that the majority of families choose to stick with remote schooling.
“My view is, a lot of parents were really focused on the scheduling question,” the mayor said. “They had gotten into a schedule that worked for them with remote. The kids had gotten used to and like the teachers they had. And they didn’t want to disrupt that. I think that’s where most parents were at.”
De Blasio added that some parents may still choose online learning next fall, but he expects that “the vast majority of parents are going to want their kids in school five days a week.”
The step toward returning all students back to their classrooms - a goal the mayor has set for September - comes a week after the city ditched its "two-case" rule that forced building closures if a minimum of two COVID-19 cases were detected.
The city's new threshold for closing requires four or more cases in multiple classrooms and the exposure must be traced to in-school transmission, officials said. After a 10-day closure and if no new outbreaks are detected, students can return to class.
The strict individual classroom closure rule remains -- one confirmed case means going remote. Mandatory masking and other core coronavirus protocol will continue. New York City's coronavirus school policies remain stricter than CDC guidance, officials say.
"This will help us to have more consistency in school attendance and schedules, keep strict health and safety standards, our situation room is always monitoring closely," de Blasio said in his announcement last Thursday. He also said that families won't have another chance to switch to in-person learning until June, at the earliest.
COVID-19 at New York City Public Schools
This map shows all known cases of COVID-19 at New York City public schools. It is updated Sunday through Friday at 5:30 PM.
Building that has been closed
One or more classrooms has been closed
A member of the school community has tested positive but the school community was not exposed
The chance to return to classrooms comes after the federal government adjusted its school guidance to say that students can safely sit 3 feet apart in the classroom if they wear masks. The CDC previously called for 6 feet of distance. Students should still be kept the usual 6 feet away from one another at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, the CDC said.
New York state on Friday eased reopening restrictions on schools to allow most students to sit closer together as long as they continue to wear masks. But before they can make any changes, school districts will have to allow parents, school staff and local health officials to weigh in, under guidance released by the state Department of Health.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said as estimated 70 percent of families are still opting for remote learning, "and so the immediate impact of such a change will be confined to the limited number of buildings - predominantly elementary schools - where space limitations mean that some students now attend fewer than five days a week."
For months, de Blasio and top city health officials have sought to assure parents and school staff that classrooms are safe. The accelerated vaccination rollout has inspired confidence as well. The mayor says New York City vaccinations could top 6 million by the time kids return in the fall. His goal for June is 5 million.