New York City public schools will no longer resume in-person classes for all students on Monday, September 21, as previously planned, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.
Instead, the city will phase its more than one million students back into the classroom on a rolling basis, beginning with pre-schools next week.
Schools serving students in kindergarten through fifth grade will go back on September 29, followed by middle and high schools on October 1.
The last-minute change in plan has sparked even more confusion among parents and school administrators already frustrated by flip-flops from de Blasio.
It marked the second time that the mayor has delayed the start of in-person classes, which were originally set to begin on September 10.
De Blasio’s continuing failure to commit to a plan at the 11th hour has fueled a chorus of critics who say the Department of Education is completely unprepared to bring the nation’s largest school district back online amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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New York City public schools will no longer resume in-person classes for all students on Monday, September 21, as previously planned, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday
De Blasio and union leaders said they chose to use a phased model for reopening schools because the city needed more time to prepare buildings and recruit more teachers.
‘We are doing this to make sure all of the standards we set can be achieved,’ the mayor said, adding that he ‘literally made a list of 20 different concerns that we’re going to work through to address because they were real concerns’.
Unions representing teachers and principals in the public school district have warned that schools still don’t have the teachers or the coronavirus safety measures that are needed to reopen safely.
Labor leaders, who had sounded alarms in recent days that the schools still didn’t have the teachers or the coronavirus safety measures needed to reopen safely, appeared alongside de Blasio at Thursday’s news conference.
‘Opening Monday to everyone would not have been safe for our students,’ said Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents principals.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, called reopening the school district ‘an unprecedented challenge’.
‘We want our school system up running and safe and we want to keep it up running and safe. That’s what the families of the children of this city deserve,’ Mulgrew said.
‘We are protecting our schools, our families our children and ourselves against this horrendous situation that is known as the pandemic.’
De Blasio and union leaders said they chose to use a phased model for reopening schools because the city needed more time to prepare for the students’ return
De Blasio’s continuing failure to commit to a plan at the 11th hour has fueled a chorus of critics who say the Department of Education is completely unprepared to bring the nation’s largest school district back online amid the coronavirus pandemic
De Blasio confirmed that the staffing shortage was one of the major issues driving the latest delay and announced the department of education is hiring an additional 2,500 teachers on top of the 2,000 he said were being added earlier this week.
‘When I heard Mark [Cannizzaro] and Michael [Mulgrew] talk about specific school staffing needs that still were not being resolved in time enough, I heard an honest concern,’ the mayor said.
‘It just was clear to me that we did not have a clear enough number and that we had to agree to a number that folks who had the ability to hear exactly from every school what was going on in a different way that DOE bureaucracy hears.’
The news was immediately met with backlash on Twitter as parents accused de Blasio and other education officials of ignoring union leaders’ concerns until the last minute.
‘NYC Mayor decides less than a week before school opens to delay and phase reopening (advocates made this call months ago),’ one man tweeted.
‘This is the height of arrogance and poor planning. We’ve wasted the last 3 months. Unacceptable.’
Another critic used de Blasio’s own phrase – ‘staggered reopening’ – against him, writing: ‘Mission accomplished: parents, teachers and students staggering away in disbelief.’
‘You had all summer, you delayed opening once already. This failure falls on the Mayor and the Chancellor. Someone should lose their job,’ a third user quipped.
Many of the outraged parents pointed out that de Blasio was causing significant harm to powerless children by failing to execute a coherent plan.
‘How are you making these last minute changes three days before school was supposed to start?’ a woman tweeted.
‘Do you have any idea how bad this is for the kids who were thrilled to start school on Monday and are going to be crushed when they hear about this delay?’
‘What a monumental bumble! Didn’t you know you would need more teachers before now??? What are you “leaders” thinking????? Obviously not about students and teachers and learning…’ a man wrote.
Another woman wrote: ‘My kid is in fourth grade, doesn’t know how to read or write, and you expect him to learn remotely… Good luck getting on him when I’m at work… I guess this will be another year wasted for special needs children.’
The news was immediately met with backlash on Twitter as parents moaned that de Blasio had months to get schools ready for reopening but failed to listen to union leaders’ concerns
De Blasio has repeatedly assured that the city can pull off the hybrid learning system that he announced back in July, which will see 58 percent of students attend classes three days a week while learning at home the other two days.
Just yesterday the mayor insisted that in-person classes would start as planned on September 21, as the school year kicked off remotely with three days of online orientation this week.
‘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.’
A small number of students began returning to physical classrooms on Wednesday for the first time since March, when COVID-19 forced the closure of schoolhouses in New York and much of the rest of the nation.
The reopening comes as an average of about 240 people a day are still being diagnosed with coronavirus in New York City, one of only a few large US cities attempting to start the school year with students in real classrooms.
The city previously agreed with the unions that there would be monthly coronavirus testing of students and staff, with systems in place to send home classrooms or shut down entire schools if new COVID-19 cases are found.
De Blasio has repeatedly assured that the city can pull off the hybrid learning system that he announced back in July, which will see 58 percent of students participate in classes both online and in person
The new school reopening plan marked de Blasio’s second major U-turn this week.
On Monday he announced that the city had reversed its decision to transfer homeless individuals out of a luxury hotel on the Upper West Side, after some residents protested the transfer and others expressed outrage that the scheme was allowed to continue.
De Blasio said that ‘the whole system is being looked at right now’ after facing criticism from all sides over his plan to house some 13,000 homeless people in hotels across the city during the coronavirus pandemic.
In another big move, the mayor revealed on Wednesday that he will furlough himself and up to 500 of his own mayoral staff for a week in a symbolic gesture that will save New York City $860,000 as it faces a budget deficit of $4.2billion.
The mayor’s plan will put 495 City Hall staffers – including his wife Chirlaine McCray – out of work for a week at some point between October and March 2021. De Blasio has said that he will continue working without pay during his own furlough.
The decision to put his staff out of a job for a week comes after de Blasio threatened to cut up to 22,000 city employees by next month. He said the furloughs may serve as a ‘useful symbol’ if the union cannot agree on cost-cutting measures by then.
The pandemic has cost New York City $9billion in revenue and forced a $7billion cut to the city’s annual budget. It also needs to plug a $4.2 billion deficit in next year’s budget. The city has also asked the federal government for aid, but so far none appears to be coming.