coronavirus and nyc schools

NYC Unveils Outdoor Learning Initiative for Upcoming School Year: What to Know

The new outdoor learning plan "is going to open up a lot of new, wonderful possibilities for our kids and for our educators," Mayor Bill de Blasio said

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What to Know

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the city’s plan to allow public, private and charter schools to hold in-person classes outdoors.
  • Although work on school campuses can begin Monday, schools hoping to use public parks or to school streets for their outdoor classes have to submit those plans for approval by Aug. 28 in order to get an answer on approval by Sept. 4.
  • De Blasio said that 27 neighborhoods that were hardest hit by COVID-19 and those schools that do not have outdoor space will take priority.

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the city’s plan to allow public, private and charter schools to hold in-person classes outdoors. The initiative comes after the mayor faced mounting pressure from parents and local officials to leverage outdoor spaces to provide additional room for in-person instruction as the school year fast approaches while the city continues to grapple with the ongoing pandemic.

"A new outdoor learning plan that is going to open up a lot of new, wonderful possibilities for our kids and for our educators," de Blasio said during his daily coronavirus briefing Monday. "We heard those voices that said, 'Could we do something different under these circumstances?' The answer is: yes. This will apply to our public schools, our charter schools, private/religious schools, Learning Bridges schools. You name it. One standard for all."

De Blasio said that the plan also comes due to the fact that the coronavirus does not seem to spread as easily outdoors.

"It’s great to be outdoors in general, but we also know that the disease does not spread the same outdoors. We’ve seen that over and over. So, we want to give schools the option to do as much outdoors as they can," the mayor said.

According to de Blasio, the city urges school principals to determine the maximum amount of teaching their schools would like to do outdoors.

"Starting today, we empower our principals, to determine the maximum amounts they can do outdoors. It’s up to them how to use school yards, anything on school property that is outdoors. But we are going to go farther. The Department of Education is going to work with principals to open up more space if that is what they want, if that is what they think will work for their school community," de Blasio said.

Although work on school campuses can begin Monday, schools hoping to use public parks or to school streets for their outdoor classes should submit those plans for approval by Aug. 28 in order to get an answer on approval by Sept. 4. Requests can be submitted on a rolling basis after that, however.

The Department of Education will work to accommodate schools’ requests to the greatest extent possible, unless the arrangement are deemed unfeasible or unsafe. The submissions will be reviewed by an interagency working group comprised of the Department of Parks & Recreation, Department of Transportation, Department of Sanitation, FDNY and  NYPD.

Additionally, schools must provide barriers and staffing to close any street that is part of their outdoor plan. When submitting a street location, schools are strongly encouraged to select streets with the following criteria:

  • Is a quiet, non-commercial street;
  • Is a one-way street; if two-way, not more than one lane of traffic in each direction;
  • Is not an MTA bus route or truck route;
  • Is not used  by a police/fire station, parking garage, or hospital.

The city encourages schools to hold classes that require additional spacing per public health guidelines, such as physical education, art, music chorus and drama outdoors. Additional academic classes can also be held outdoors where space permits and if a school has an interest in doing so.

Additionally, de Blasio said that 27 neighborhoods that were hardest hit by COVID-19 and those schools that do not have outdoor space will take priority.

"It really depends on the circumstances of each school, but one thing we know for sure is we’re going to focus on the 27 neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. We are going to prioritize making sure that they get options for outdoor space," de Blasio said. "Those neighborhoods have suffered so much. We owe it to them to make sure they get every possible advantage going forward, so they’ll be the first priority for outdoor space. We’re also going to focus on schools that don’t happen to have their own outdoor space and look for good options for them."

Chancellor of Schools Richard Carranza said that the new initiative comes as a means to continue putting the health and safety of students, teachers and staff first.

"As we get closer to reopening, we continue to implement our plans, all the while keeping health and safety front and center. I’m excited about outdoor learning as a supplement to the school day. Before COVID, as a teacher and a school leader, I always knew how important it was for my scholars to get some time outdoors. And, now, in partnership with our sister agencies that will be possible for more schools, even if a school doesn’t have a yard," he said, adding that the Department of Education hopes to make "sure that we make this as non-bureaucratic as possible."

We will be able to maintain the vibrancy, the richness of the school and school experience while maintaining physical distancing thanks to this initiative of outdoor learning.

Richard Carranza, NYC Schools Chancellor

Carranza went on to say that the importance of the outdoors for students is crucial.

"Not only do we know that the virus spreads less easily outdoors, but we know our students need time to run, play, explore and create, and that happens outdoors. We will be able to maintain the vibrancy, the richness of the school and school experience while maintaining physical distancing thanks to this initiative of outdoor learning," Carranza said.

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