What to Know
- New York City's already delayed school year began Wednesday with the start of a three-day remote orientation, a soft opening that will serve as a prologue to the scheduled hybrid learning start on Monday
- 42% of NYC students have opted for all-remote; that number has climbed 15 percentage points in two weeks and the city is now saying it doesn't have enough staff to give all remote kids “live” or “synchronous” instruction
- Unions representing teachers and principals say NYC schools don't have the personnel -- or the COVID safety measures -- to pull off the hybrid learning model, either. More protests are planned for Wednesday
Mayor Bill de Blasio is furloughing his City Hall staff, including himself.
The measure, announced Wednesday, is a way to save money due to the budget constraints brought on by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting Oct. 1, through March, every mayoral office employee -- nearly 500 individuals -- will have to take an unpaid, weeklong (five days) furlough at some point, de Blasio said. The furloughs are expected to save roughly $1 million, which the mayor called "really just a drop in the bucket."
"This is a step you never want to see," the mayor said, as he highlighted the hard work of his staff particularly during the pandemic. However, he stressed the decision is necessary and will bring some financial savings to the city that faces a $9 billion loss in revenue — all the while urging the federal government once again for direct financial assistance.
One watchdog group that looks into the city's budget said that the furlough "is in some ways a necessary step, but certainly not sufficient to manage the city's fiscal problems." The mayor's announcement is seen more as a symbolic gesture than a one-size-fits-all, and is not nearly enough the prevent the very real possibility of thousands of cuts citywide, across all departments.
The news comes as New York City's already delayed school year launched its remote start Wednesday, a soft opening intended to serve as a prologue to next week's in-person return for more than a half-million students. It did not go without hiccups, like at a school in Brooklyn where there was no WiFi, forcing teachers to to go a neighboring parking lot to look for a signal.
"We've said repeatedly it will not be a perfect start," de Blasio said Wednesday. "We'll be making a lot of adjustments in the weeks after we begin to continue to improve things. But the important reality here is to say we're going to be providing the best education possible in person, the best education possible remotely, we're going to keep making improvements as we go along, we’re going to keep adjusting and figuring out what we need in terms of staffing."
The number of those requesting all-remote has only gone up recently. As of the last update, 42 percent of New York City students have opted to go all-remote. That's up 15 percentage points in two weeks. Despite promising for weeks that every student would get “live” or “synchronous” instruction from remote teachers, the city admitted Wednesday it doesn't have sufficient personnel to pull that off.
The mayor said they’ll make adjustments as they can — saying that "what happens on the first day is not the same as how things are two weeks, three weeks or four weeks later" — and on Wednesday said that the vast majority of schools and rooms are ready to go. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said “asynchronous” or prerecorded instruction can be strong, too.
"As we look at the first day and know that we're working through some of these staffing challenges, we're being honest with the public, nobody's hiding anything here. You're almost darned if you do and darned if you don't," said Carranza.
The principals' union, Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, said that announcement "is obviously an attempt to deal with the staffing crisis" it has been warning about for months.
While CSA President Mark Cannizzaro said in a statement the current climate requires increased focus on in-person learning for safety reasons, the remote guidance change "will not solve the most glaring, urgent problem: far too many schools still do not have enough teachers for in-person learning when school buildings reopen for students on Monday.”
More protests among educators took place Wednesday, with frustrated teachers and others echoing common complaints: poor ventilation, PPE shortages, lack of staffing and slow testing and tracing. At P.S. 63 on the Lower East Side, staff said they didn't have working windows in the nurses office, of all places. Another group of educators led a march from from one school with ventilation problems to another.
There was also a protest of parents and teachers outside Hunter College on the Upper East Side, concerned that the CUNY run K-12 schools don't have a COVID testing plan in place. They too had complaints regarding ventilation, with many classroom without windows.
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 3-day transitional start of the fall school year begins as one school, PS 139 in Ditmas Park, had to be shut down for at least 24 hours after a second COVID case was confirmed among educational staff in a four-day span. That is the same school where teachers staged a protest on Monday, placing desks outside the building to call attention to what they say are unsafe conditions inside.
De Blasio on Tuesday suggested the outdoor demonstrations are familiar union tactics. When asked about the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators' complaints that there are 10,000 teachers needed to cover both in-classroom and remote learning, he said, "I have never met a manager that didn’t want a bigger budget and more personnel."
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, questioned both staffing levels and coronavirus safety.
“Right now we still don’t have a teacher for every classroom for students who come in,” Mulgrew said Tuesday on TV station NY1. “We still don’t know if all the schools are being cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis because custodians have not been given all the proper equipment to do those things.”
The teachers union continues to say if they're not satisfied by Monday, they won't allow the schools to open.
The mayor did admit that it is possible the city will have to find more teachers by the time hybrid learning begins, acknowledging that he may have to add more than the additional 2,000 staff he promised the unions this week.
"We will compare notes, if there are still some gaps we will take another step," said de Blasio.
The mayor and chancellor also said they will continue to make adjustments as the time goes on. Meanwhile, concerns abound over COVID cases already reported.
At least 56 city schools have had one or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 among staff, the city's Department of Education announced Tuesday. Click here to see the full list of affected schools.
The city is also still scrambling to make fixes at other schools across the five boroughs. At P.S. 209 in the Bronx, teachers stayed outside on Tuesday because the ventilation system isn't working.
"There has been no solution yet, so we decided today to start working outside in hopes this will be fixed before our students come on Monday," said teacher Alyson Bamford.
There is no fix coming for another school in Manhattan, which has been deemed unsafe for in-person return. The Martin Luther King Junior Educational Complex on the Upper West Side, a huge school with 6,000 students, won't be opening Monday and students just learned Wednesday where they'll have to attend school.
Junior Crisostomo, a high school senior at MLK, says the change is too sudden. He's among at least 800 students from several schools (including Maxine Greene High School for Imaginative Inquiry, the High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice, and Manhattan/Hunter Science High School) who were told they can either opt to learn remotely or commute to a school building downtown.
For many students commuting from places like the Bronx, a trip to Borough of Manhattan Community College would add likely around a half-hour both ways.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Other schools that are part of the complex — including Grades 9-12 of the Special Music School, the Urban Assembly School for Media Studies, and the High School of Arts and Technology — will use Success Academy space in other DOE buildings, according to education officials.
"We've been clear from the beginning that if a building or classroom was not safe, we would not use it. While the vast majority of our classrooms and nearly all of our buildings will be ready to serve children and staff on September 21, we have found alternative space for the schools located on the Martin Luther King, Jr. campus," the city's DOE said in a statement. "All schools will be accommodated and we have found suitable, safe and convenient options for these school communities to help start their year strong."
The city says it plans to do random testing of students and staff for the virus starting on Oct. 1. The mayor said Monday that a COVID-19 “situation room” would be set up to respond swiftly to school coronavirus cases.