NYC Middle Schools Reopen in Person for 1st Time in Months; Older Kids Stay Remote

High school students will continue to learn fully remotely for now; Mayor Bill de Blasio says those grade levels bring more complications as far as enforcing COVID rules, but he hopes to make an announcement soon

NBC Universal, Inc.

What to Know

  • NYC middle schools reopen in person Thursday for the first time since the mayor moved all public schools remote in November as COVID-19 infections began to climb ahead of the holidays
  • Some elementary school students returned to in-person schooling in December, but upper-grade classrooms have remained closed except for those serving some special-needs students
  • The city has performed 500,000 virus tests on students and staff members since the school year started; the latest weekly positivity rate is 0.58 percent, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said

Tens of thousands of New York City middle school students returned to their school buildings on Thursday for the first time since schools moved all remote citywide in mid-November when the five boroughs' topped Mayor Bill de Blasio's then-highly controversial 3 percent rolling positivity rate threshold.

Classroom doors are opening for the 62,000 students in grades 6 through 8 whose parents chose a mix of in-person and remote learning for their children. There are about 196,000 students in those grades in the city's public schools.

De Blasio was on hand to welcome kids back at one Bronx middle school. He asked one student what he thought of remote learning. "Boring," the child said.

"Seeing our kids come back, middle school kids coming back, what an exciting moment, such good energy -- everyone so happy to be back in school," de Blasio said Thursday. "Whether you're talking about parents, kids, teachers, educators, staff, everyone wanted to be back in the building. Everyone wanted to be there for the kids. It was wonderful to see the energy and the hope and the understanding of this is how we move forward, this is how we come back."

High school students will continue to learn fully remotely for now. De Blasio says those grade levels bring additional complications as far as strict enforcement of coronavirus precautions, but he hopes to make an announcement soon.

It marks the latest step in the city's gradual reopening plan for students. Gaby Acevedo reports.

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


For now, the mayor says he's focused on the task at hand -- getting the return to in-person learning in the city's middle schools off the ground. He says he hopes to make an announcement on in-person learning at the high school level in the coming weeks, though didn't indicate what the context of it might be.

"Everything's lining up – the situation with COVID, even though we're very watchful, watching the data and watching the science, concerned about the variants, but, overall, we've certainly seen improvement," de Blasio said. "Every day, depending on the day, you know, 25,000, 30,000, 35,000, 40,000, or more New Yorkers getting vaccinated, that number is going to jump up. That's going to make us safer. But, most importantly, we've proven how to open schools properly. High school comes with some additional complications."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released new guidance on school reopenings. It advises schools to phase-in their reopening plans in accordance with the severity of local outbreaks.

Students receiving in-person instruction in the city are required to wear face coverings at all times, maintain distance from others and submit to random COVID-19 testing. De Blasio said the city has performed 500,000 tests for the virus on students and staff members since the school year started.

The latest weekly positivity rate in city schools is 0.58 percent, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said Thursday.

"We can truly say the safest indoor locations in the city of New York are in the classrooms of the New York City Department of Education," Carranza said. "We will continue to provide the safest learning environment possible for students, educators and staff."

Vaccination is as key a part of the path forward as testing. So far, about 30,000 city educators have been vaccinated. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, whose union represents more than 120,000 teachers, guidance counselors and other school staff members, said that's not enough.

"Even putting the most positive spin on the city’s numbers, there are tens of thousands of staff who have not yet had access to the vaccine,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

School teachers and staff may play a "central role" in transmitting Covid-19 in schools where social distancing isn't followed and face masks aren't worn. Vaccinating them against the disease could help return students to the classroom safely, according to a new federal study published last week.

Teachers were part of the second group eligible for vaccination in New York. That group also includes first responders, food delivery and restaurant workers and people age 65 and older. Many have said they struggle to get appointments given supply limitations, though the city had said it planned to prioritize middle school vaccinations last week while students were on mid-winter break anyway.

nyc opens more vaccine sites
NYC is opening more vaccine hubs as its supply increases.

It wasn't clear how many teacher vaccinations were done during that week off. To date, the city has done more than 1.6 million total doses. Nearly 11 percent of the eligible population has received at least one dose, state data shows, while about 5.6 percent of those eligible are fully inoculated. Statewide, 7.1 percent of eligible New Yorkers have gotten both shots. The weekly allocation continues to rise -- and the already sprawling distribution network continues to rise along with it.

Another 12 community-based pop-up vaccination sites come online at community centers, public housing complexes and cultural centers across the state this week as well. After the initial round of shots, the pop-up sites will be re-established in three weeks to administer second doses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said.

new state vaccine hubs
More pop-up vaccine sites come online this week.
more vaccine pop-ups
The appointments at many are fully booked already.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

Most localities have used some of the increased supply to start vaccinating essential personnel such as fire, police — and teachers, a group that Cuomo said the state will start tracking vaccination numbers for weekly. He said it's a part of President Joe Biden's push to open schools, and will also involve figuring out how many teachers are doing in-class learning, as many educators are concerned about going back to the classroom without a vaccine.

Some city elementary school students returned to in-person schooling in December, but upper-grade classrooms have remained closed except for those serving some special-needs students. The mayor has pushed to have reopened schools move to in-person learning five days a week, but a number have cited issues from staff limitations to space concerns in saying they can't do it yet.

The schools' reopening comes amid a huge reopening week for New York state and city, one that saw Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden welcome fans in the stands for the first time in nearly a year and more subway service resume.

A small number of fans were allowed to attend games at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center for the first time in nearly a year, as New York continues its slow road to recovery. NBC New York's Ray Villeda reports.

On Friday, New York City indoor dining capacity will increase to 35 percent, just one week after it returned for the first time since mid-December, while nursing home visitations will resume in accordance with federal guidelines.

Cuomo has cited ongoing progress in the state's COVID numbers -- and key testing requirements related to some of the reopenings -- in his decisions. On Thursday, he reported a statewide rolling seven-day positivity rate of 3.34 percent, the lowest since Nov. 27. Hospitalizations are down to 5,703, a decline of more than 3,500 since their latest holiday surge peak on Jan. 19.

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here


Rev. Al Sharpton received his COVID vaccine Thursday morning -- and encouraged other members of the Black community to do the same.
Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
Contact Us