Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he’s going full steam ahead with reopening the Big Apple’s public school system in two weeks – despite calls from teachers, principals and a slew of city officials to delay in-person learning.
“We have to keep moving forward. Our kids need us. We have to find a way to get it right,” de Blasio told reporters during his daily City Hall press briefing as he stood firm on reopening the city’s 1,800 public schools on Sept. 10.
An optimistic Hizzoner added, “I’m confident we can have all the pieces in place.”
Still, a group of 31 City Council members last week called for de Blasio to delay the school opening saying that “far too many unanswered questions” remain as they cited coronavirus safety concerns and a lack of preparedness within the Department of Education.
And on Thursday Public Advocate Jumaane Williams kept up the pressure on de Blasio to push back the reopening of schools.
“The Mayor and Chancellor [Richard Carranza] got an assignment five months ago: to develop and implement a strategy for schools in the fall that would be educationally sound, scientifically supported, and centered on the safety of students and staff,” Williams said in a statement.
“Failure to deliver on that charge, while holding to the same deadline, has put teachers, administrators, students and parents in a near-impossible situation,” he continued.
Williams blasted City Hall for scrambling to shore up the resumption of school building activity “at this late stage” and argued that the plans have left parents and staffers scrambling.
“They demonstrate a reality we all know to be true but which some won’t admit — the city is not prepared to resume in-person learning on the arbitrary date of September 10th, and the prudent course of action is to open remotely while critical infrastructure is put in place, before phasing in in-person learning with effective safety measures,” Williams railed.
Williams said that the chances of the city’s vision coming together in the remaining weeks before the start of school are “remote.”
De Blasio on Thursday dismissed the calls for a delay and insisted, “The work has been going on for months and months” as he claimed many parents stand behind his decision.
“Honestly, I respect my fellow elected officials. I truly do. I listen to them, I work with them,” de Blasio said. “But if all of them say one thing, but the majority of parents say another thing, I’m with the parents. It’s their children. We are here to serve them and their children. Those are the voices who matter.”
The mayor noted, “Overwhelmingly, parents want us to provide in-person learning for their kids.”
Meanwhile, de Blasio said that his administration has reached an agreement on an instructional framework with the United Federation of Teachers, which represents educators in the city.
“We’ve come to an agreement with the UFT on instructional guidance that will bring clarity to all educators,” said de Blasio, who added that it provides direction as to how work will be handled with the blended learning DOE models, which puts most students in schools between one and three days a week, and remote.
“This agreement really respects our professionals,” de Blasio said.
Under the agreement, city teachers will get 30 minutes of planning time at the start of each day and the Big Apple’s 1 million public school students will get an allotted time of live instruction while they’re remote learning.
On a daily basis, students in kindergarten through second grade will receive 65 to 95 minutes of live instruction, grades three through five will get between 90 and 110 minutes, grades six through eight will have 80 to 100 minutes and high school students will receive between 100 and 120 minutes.
“The guidance provides clarity to our principals for how to program teachers and students in all modes of instruction — blended or remote,” DOE chief academic officer Linda Chen said during de Blasio’s briefing.
The agreement between the city and the UFT comes after the union threatened to strike unless every student and staffer in the Big Apple’s massive public school system is tested for COVID-19 as a precondition for restarting in-classroom learning.
But while the DOE and UFT have come to an agreement regarding the instructional aspect, staffing concerns remain a major question mark.
With students split up into different groups in each of the city’s schools to allow for social distancing, the number of classes will multiply.
“Absolutely, the math would indicate to you that is going to be a variable that we need to solve for,” Chen said.
She continued, “Staffing is something we are monitoring closely and we’re concerned about.”
The mayor added, “We’re going to have the kind of low class sizes we could have only imagined, not that we wanted to get them this way,” as he referenced a Bronx classroom that used to have 24 students, but will now only have nine.
Also, the head of the DOE’s school construction authority, Lorraine Grillo, gave a ventilation inspection update on city schools and said that 370 buildings have been fully inspected with 247 more inspections happening Thursday.
Of the buildings that have been inspected, 92 percent are “just fine,” while the other 8 percent had “small issues” that came up,” Grillo said.
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