After coronavirus forced millions of school children to stay home for the rest of the academic year, there's now hope for kids and parents of a return to in-person classes in the fall as COVID-19 cases number drop around the tri-state.
While some parents are still skeptical about schools reopening after summer, worried about the spread of infection, others are looking forward to the end of remote-learning -- but things may not be that simple because of safety restrictions and social distancing.
Here's how each state is handling the school reopening when it comes to the safety of kids and teachers:
New York City Public Schools
Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed a preliminary fall reopening plan for New York City schools that involves a hybrid approach of both in-person and remote learning and intense COVID safety precautions.
According to the city's reopening plan, most students will likely be in school just two or three days a week to assure social distancing in the nation's largest public school system. They will learn via remote instruction on the days they're not in class. Class sizes will be limited, which de Blasio said could allow for more focused instruction. Principals will get a slate of scheduling formats to evaluate.
Families will have the option to choose fully remote instruction if that best fits their needs. They'll also be allowed to transition back to in-person instruction on a quarterly basis.
Safety measures will include required face coverings for all students and staff, social distancing, nightly deep cleans and regular cleanings throughout the day. Cafeterias, auditoriums, gyms and other large spaces may be converted into classrooms for additional spacing.
Among some of the unknowns: Whether students will be able to participate in extracurricular activities like band class or team sports, and what happens to parents who can't monitor their children at home a few times a week and still keep their jobs.
Also a possible major logistical challenge: Hiring thousands of people to work in the proposed classrooms, as laid out in the plan. Because what would ordinarily be one classroom with one teacher, there will now be multiple groups requiring different teachers.
The mayor said the city is currently in the process of retrofitting its schools so as many of its more than 1.1 million public school students will be able to return to in-person classes safely when school starts on Sept. 10. The mayor has cited a survey from the city's Department of Education that showed 75 percent of New York City parents wanted to send their kids back to school in September, which leaves a full 25 percent still unsure.
While the mayor believes schools will be open come the fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it's not that simple — marking the second time since the start of the pandemic that he and the mayor have not been on the same page regarding schools. Cuomo said he won't make a decision regarding schools until early August, and de Blasio recognizes that ultimately the governor has the final say.
The state will release its finalized school guidance on Monday, July 13, Cuomo said, while New York's 700 districts must submit their reopening plans for approval by July 31.
Educators have indicated students may be subject to split schedules and return to the classroom in waves. They'll likely alternate days of remote and in-person learning. A Brooklyn elementary school principal's letter hinting kids may only be in-person one of every three days riled parents, a number of whom wondered rhetorically what would be the point of that kind of schooling.
"We have a Plan A -- that's what every school has been instructed -- figure out the maximum number of students you can get in the school safely," de Blasio said, adding that all the necessary precautions, from PPE to social distancing requirements, were being incorporated into each district's planning process.
Other New York Schools
The Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department formed a School Reopening Task Force to help guide schools as they plan for fall reopening. Officials held four meetings with educators, administrators and parents in June to discuss the best way to move forward but no guidelines on reopening have been released.
The DOE says two things are certain: the health of everyone is paramount and planning for schools to reopen is not a one-time event.
"The Board and Department will continuously monitor the situation and provide updated guidance, policies, and regulatory changes as the situation requires," the department said.
Areas of focus officials are using to develop the guidance and regulatory changes include:
- health and safety;
- teaching and learning;
- social-emotional needs;
- special education;
- bilingual education and multilingual learners/bilingual learners;
- digital equity and access;
- budget and fiscal;
- transportation, facilities, and nutrition; and
- staffing/human resources.
Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled preliminary guidance on June 26 for reopening the state's schools in the fall, one that involves a hybrid approach of in-person and remote learning but must include the first, as well as COVID screenings.
The governor admits there's no "one size" fits all approach to reopening schools. New Jersey's guidance was developed after surveying more than 300,000 parents and listening to key stakeholders, including 300 superintendents. (For full details, find the Department of Education's complete 104-page report here.)
- All faculty, staff, and visitors will be required to wear face coverings where social distancing isn't possible, including on buses
- Class sizes will be limited where possible to better promote social distancing. Desks may be moved further apart, barriers may be added between desks and desks can be turned to one direction to avoid virus transmission
- Students and school district employees will be screened for COVID symptoms
- Playgrounds are allowed, but the equipment (and all frequently touched areas) must be sanitized after each period of student use
- No determination has been made yet on organized athletics
- Cafeterias can be open but the state suggests districts stagger meal time. Self-serve and buffet lines should be prohibited
While all plans are subject to change depending on the state's COVID-19 infection rates, the number has been extremely low compared with its tri-state neighbors.
- Class sizes might be smaller to accommodate social distancing and students may be moved to gymnasiums or auditoriums to do so
- Masks will be required for students and staff, but temperature checks and COVID tests won't
- School districts are recommended to use a "cohorting" system, to keep the same students in small groups based on classrooms
- School hallways would be rerouted to be one direction only to cut down on the number of students passing each other
- Students could have to eat lunch in their classrooms or outside
- School buses will be used at or near full capacity. Current plans do not include a plan to limit the number of students to a seat or sit them in every other row
If Connecticut sees an increase in COVID-19 cases in the fall, school districts are required to come up with alternative plans for learning. One alternative plan would be a hybrid option that would include some in-person learning and some remote learning at home.
The state later released a 50-page guidance that has a list of requirements and recommendations that schools will have to address that cover different areas, including remote learning, options for students and staff who may not be able to return immediately, communications plans, social distancing and masks in school facilities, hygiene, transportation and more. Some of those details include:
- Schools being required to have a communications liaison informing families of all plans and expectations regarding health and safety
- Information from families regarding how many students per household would be expected back, would require transportation, would need remote learning support, etc.
- How to get "vulnerable learner groups" back in person first
- Making sure school buildings are able to comply with all measures established, including water and ventilation systems, as well having having as many no-touch systems (for doors, trash cans, bathrooms, etc.) activated and used as possible. Where those are not available, reducing touch points (propping doors, removing garbage lids, etc.) is advised
- Arranging classrooms to have all students facing the same way, and so there is distancing between students as well the teacher