‘Psychological Warfare:' 2nd NYC Schools Delay Brings Anger to Some, Relief to Others

The in-person start for K-5 and K-8 schools will be pushed back eight days, to Sept. 29, while middle and high schoolers will now start Oct. 1; 3-K, pre-K and special education will start in person on Monday as scheduled

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What to Know

  • New York City students in grades 8-12 will now have to wait until Oct. 1 to start their in-person classes; those in K-5 and K-8 schools will delay a week
  • “If it were up to me, I’d send them five days a week,” one frustrated parent with kids in 4th and 8th grade said. “I feel like we’ve got to rip the Band-Aid off here"
  • Staffing has been a concern; the mayor said he'd add another 2,500 educators on top of the 2,000 extra he already pledged to deploy, but that still falls 5,500 short of the 10,000 unions said they'd need to do the job

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yet another delay of in-person school for most New York City students Thursday, just days before the re-scheduled restart. Reaction was swift - and mixed, with parents and educators expressing some variation of frustration, concern and relief. There was also confusion.

What will an extra eight days do? What did an extra 11 days do the last time?

Christine Gibson, who was among the 42 percent of families to opt for all-remote for her two kids, she describes the current situation as a “lost year.” She says the last-minute changes and ever-changing protocols make a bad situation worse for parents, students and teachers.

“People are just going to go insane,” she said. "It’s psychological warfare.”

While pre-K and special education students will still go to school in person Monday if they opted for the hybrid learning model, they will be the only ones. Students in K-5 and K-8 schools will now report eight days later, on Sept. 29, while those in middle schools and high schools won't return in person until Oct. 1. Remote instruction begins for the rest of New York City students Monday.

De Blasio said on MSNBC Friday that as a New York City public school parent, he understands the frustration. But, he says, "We need to get it right."

"We are going to have our schools open for our parents and our kids, that's really what I think matters here,” the mayor said. "Next week there’s going to be almost 90,000 kids in New York City classrooms, the following week hundreds of thousands more. We’re going to be over half a million kids in classrooms in the next few weeks."

He also told MSNBC that while he needs "the health care situation to cooperate," he was confident in the new timeline because of how well New York has fought to keep the virus at bay, such as through social distancing and wearing of masks.

A day earlier, de Blasio, along with Schools Chancellor and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, said the new staggered in-person return was not an admission of defeat, but an effort to ensure the plan would work.

“We are doing this to make sure all of the standards we set can be achieved,” de Blasio said.

Mulgrew, who at times has been extremely and publicly at odds with de Blasio on school safety, stressed the same message. He said the modifications were implemented in an effort to ensure that the current back-to-school plan will work -- for all students, teachers, staff and families.

"This is an unprecedented challenge," Mulgrew said. "We need to step back. We need to figure out a couple things. We've seen over the last 10 days there are some blanks we have to fill in and we're going to do that."

New York City revealed a new phased approach for in-person learning on Thursday.

The mayor said the last-minute changes stemmed from ongoing conversations over the last month that culminated in lengthy talks Wednesday and, ultimately, the decision to stagger the in-person return. Different schools have different levels of readiness and he acknowledged "my colleagues raised real concerns" -- especially as it relates to children having a fair and equal education.

The announcement exasperated parents like Dori Kleinman, who said the hiatus from in-person learning is affecting the development of her fourth- and eighth-grade children.

“If it were up to me, I’d send them five days a week,” she said. “I feel like we’ve got to rip the Band-Aid off here."

Daniel Leviatin, a fourth-grade teacher and school librarian at Public School 59 in the Bronx, questioned what an additional eight days would change.

“It’s not good enough because they’re still just kicking the can down the road,” he said, adding that he believed reopening dates should be determined by school or neighborhood, not dictated citywide.

Omeisha Snape, who was among the parents choosing all-remote learning for her children, said Thursday’s news reinforced a sense that she and her husband had made a wise choice.

After weeks of promising hybrid learning, the city is now racing to fill vacancies, as teachers maintain some schools are simply not ready for re-entry. News 4's Andrew Siff reports.

“I am extremely happy my husband and I agreed to keep our children home,” Snape, who lives in Queens, said. “This way, they are all on the same page and aren’t missing out on schoolwork.”

Snape, who has six school-age children, said she had her husband, Norman, wanted to avoid potential problems if the children, who have asthma, dropped their masks at school. But also, “You don’t know who your kids are going to be around, and who’s bringing home what," she said.

NBC New York's Katherine Creag reports.

Schools initially had been scheduled to reopen in-person citywide, for all students, on Sept. 10. The first delay cost 11 days; it was intended to give teachers more time to prepare and apparently revealed further preparations were needed across the board. Teachers had only been in their school buildings a few days before Sept. 10 and spent a full week in them after: A flurry of safety questions emerged.

New York City schools shut down in March when the pandemic hit and students went to all online instruction. School officials distributed more than 300,000 tablets and laptops so that children who lacked such devices could connect to their virtual classrooms, but gaps persisted and online attendance was low.

It's partly because of the difficulty in reaching all of the city's children remotely that de Blasio has insisted on opening schools in person this fall even as other big city U.S. school districts started the school year with online-only instruction.

But opening the massive system of more than 17,000 schools has proved a daunting challenge. Educators and union reps have cited issues for months: There's a PPE shortage. School buildings lack ventilation. There's not enough staff. Testing and contact tracing isn't happening fast enough.

At least 61 city buildings have had one or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 among staff, the city's Department of Education said in its Friday update. Click here to see a list of affected schools.

Additionally, trying to contain the virus is proving difficult in many institutions of higher education, including colleges in New York state. On Friday, SUNY Oswego announced it was shifting to a 14-day remote learning plan as a temporary precaution to allow "the COVID-19 case total on campus to stabilize" following a surge in cases that was discovered last week.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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