NYC Elementary Schools Reopen in Big Back-to-School Test

Families have the option of choosing all-remote learning, and a growing number are doing so — 48% as of Friday, up from 30% six weeks earlier

NBC Universal, Inc.

What to Know

  • Hundreds of thousands of K-5 and K-8 school students are heading back to classrooms Tuesday as New York City enters a high-stakes stage of resuming in-person learning
  • Families have the option of choosing all-remote learning, and a growing number are doing so — 48% as of Friday, up from 30% six weeks earlier, according to city Education Department statistics.
  • Meanwhile, officials are worried about recent spurts in virus cases in some city neighborhoods after a summer of success at keeping transmission fairly stable in the city as a whole

Elementary school students went back to classrooms across New York City on Tuesday in a high-stakes test for the nation's biggest public school system even as the mayor warned that a recent rise in coronavirus cases was “cause for real concern.”

With children wearing masks and undergoing temperature checks at schoolhouse doors, students and parents who opted for brick-and-mortar school greeted the twice-delayed date with enthusiasm, relief and some trepidation.

Waiting for her daughter's turn to go into a school in Manhattan's East Village, Ashley Shelton said she hoped the start of school would be good for both of them.

Last spring's sudden shift to online learning was “how can I put that — OK,” Shelton said, but her daughter missed going to school. And Shelton, a single mother, lost her receptionist job amid the pandemic. Now that school is starting, she’s looking for new work.

Still, “I’m not going to say it was easy” to decide to send her daughter to school in person, Shelton said. “Because I have my doubts, I have my worries, but God is good.”

The elementary school reopening — with middle and high schools set to follow Thursday — comes with officials concerned about recent spurts in virus cases in some neighborhoods after a summer of success at keeping transmission fairly stable in the city as a whole.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that 3.25 percent of coronavirus tests citywide came back positive Monday, the highest proportion in months. The level had hovered around 1% through the summer and into last week.

“That is cause for real concern,” the Democratic mayor said, saying the city needs to "be on high alert.” He and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza both maintain that there are no immediate plans to shut down any schools, even with the recent upticks.

At the same time, New York City restaurants remain set to reopen their indoor dining areas Wednesday at reduced capacity, a step the state and city had held off because of concern about the virus’ potential to spread indoors.

With over 1 million public school students, New York City initially had a more ambitious timeline than many other big U.S. school systems for bringing children back to schoolhouses this fall. Families have the option of choosing all-remote learning, and a growing number are doing so — 48% as of Friday, up from 30% six weeks earlier, according to city Education Department statistics.

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


The rest will have a virus-altered version of in-person school, learning sometimes in classrooms and sometimes at home.

Pre-kindergarteners and some special education students began showing up Sept. 21 as online instruction began for the rest of the student body. Tuesday was the first day of in-person learning for students in kindergarten through fifth grades whose families chose the hybrid learning plan.

Third-grader Tenzin Topdhen, 7, said he had liked his online classes but missed his friends — and in school, “we have actual recess.”

Chikage Wallace was also excited for the first day of in-person school — and so was her 6-year-old daughter.

Wallace said the first-grader had kept saying, “I want to go. When can I go?” Meanwhile, Wallace, a beautician, struggled to manage her work with no place for her daughter to go.

“I’m a single mom, so I have to work, so I don’t know how I can survive this situation,” said Wallace, who lives in Brooklyn. “I understand the teachers are scared, but I have no help at all.”

Some students in Brooklyn who returned to school Tuesday saw the basketball courts where they might usually play taken up by mobile COVID testing units. Teachers, staff and students with parental permission were encouraged to get free, 24-hour results provided by the city. The mayor said monthly testing will be offered at every city school for members of each school community.

Students were originally due back Sept. 10. But the start date was pushed back, repeatedly, after the city teachers' union said it wasn't safe to open schools because of outdated ventilation systems, an insufficient number of school nurses and other issues. At one point, the United Federation of Teachers threatened to strike.

The union was still pressing for changes as recently as Friday, when the city agreed to let more teachers work from home when instructing students remotely, rather than having to come in to school to conduct online classes. The head of the teachers union said they set up a hotline for teachers to report any problems that may arise.

"If it's a safety issue, it has to be solved within hours. It's really that simple," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "There is no time to go through bureaucracy."

Mulgrew sounded optimistic regarding how the first day of classes back went, saying it was "largely without incident." He did note that six schools did not have a nurse, but they were able to remedy the issue. Mulgrew also said the union has told the city that if infection rates in problem areas can't be fixed or contained quickly, then a strategy must be found to close public facilities — including more than 80 public schools — in the hard-hit neighborhoods.

The school principals' union said the late-breaking change was too much and called Sunday for the state to take control of the school system for the duration of the pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he understood the concern of the principals' union and that the state would monitor virus testing data to determine whether any steps need to be taken concerning New York City schools.

Many other big school systems around the country began the fall term online, though some are reopening physical schools. In Florida, for instance, students opting for in-person learning returned to schools Sept. 21 in Palm Beach County, where the nation’s 10th largest school system has over 197,000 students.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us