Mayor de Blasio announced Sunday morning that the city would reopen public elementary schools on Dec. 7.
The sudden shift in policy comes after the parents of in-person students, activists and elected officials criticized the mayor’s decision to shut down schools earlier this month.
The new plan will forgo the 3 percent Covid positivity threshold that the mayor said forced him to close down schools, and will allow “hybrid learning” students in 3-K, pre-K and kindergarten through fifth grade to return to school buildings next Monday. District 75 schools for students with disabilities will return on Dec. 10 under the plan.
“Studies consistently show that younger kids are having less of a negative experience. And there's less concern about the spread when it comes to younger kids,” said de Blasio at his Sunday press event.
Middle and high schools are likely to remain fully remote until the new year, de Blasio added on CNN’s “New Day” on Sunday.
“From now until the Christmas break, the focus will be on the younger kids,” he said.
Instead of the citywide Covid positivity rate, each school will rely on site-specific Covid cases to assess its ability to remain open. When students return to buildings, de Blasio said a consent form for testing will be required for all students and staff, and every school will participate in weekly random testing for 20 percent of its in-person population.
As part of the plan, more schools will have enough space and staffing to accommodate students for five days per week, as opposed to the combination of in-person and remote days that has been the norm. When asked on Monday for specific figures on how many will be able to offer that schedule, though, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza was not able to say.
De Blasio said the increase in in-person capacity was in part made possible by the now fixed number of students who are involved in hybrid learning. For the grades reopening in the coming weeks, around 190,000 students will be able to return to in-person learning, he said. About 335,000 students across all grades have chosen in-person classes, according to the DOE.
The consideration of capacity also has pushed the mayor to delay any more opt-in periods for parents whose students are currently remote-only.
“When the health situation improves and particularly when we start to see some vaccine distribution on a broader scale, and we think we’re in a much better environment then we will do an opt-in because we will be able to do an entirely different approach to our schools,” de Balsio said on Monday.
The decision comes in the wake of concerns that parents, electeds and advocates have raised about the shift to all-remote learning, including a remaining shortage of school-provided electronic devices, reduction in services for students with special needs and abrupt schedule changes.
Last week District 75 students banded together to launch a federal class action lawsuit against the school system alleging that they have missed out on legally mandated services under remote remote learning.
Asked whether he regretted closing the schools under the 3 percent threshold, de Blasio told reporters Sunday that it was a painful decision but he felt like he needed to make it to give himself time to draft his new reopening plan.
“I felt very bad about it. And I felt, you know, pained,” de Blasio said. “I didn't want to do that to kids or parents, but I felt we had to keep our commitment and we had to come up with something stronger and more stringent and more sustainable.”