Let Kids Return to School: PLACE NYC Calls on the Mayor to Open Schools Now to Prioritize In-Person Learning

New York, September 21, 2020 — An all or nothing, one-size-fits-all reopening plan does not work for our 1.1M public school kids and is keeping students out of schools that are ready to receive them. Schools closed in March amid talk of “flattening the curve” and hospital bed capacity. Those concerns do not exist today, yet our students continue to receive a fraction of the education they should because of the failure to reopen. Computer screens are a poor substitute for in-person learning and Zoom lessons are dreadfully inadequate for younger students. It is time to return to in-person learning in schools, even if it is one school at a time.

Given social distance requirements, most school buildings can only accommodate students being in-person 1-3 days per week. Yet when presented with the choice between fully-remote and blended, the majority of families (58%) or nearly 600,000, chose to go back into schools.

Given the school space constraints, dividing students into multiple cohorts makes staffing complicated. The UFT’s contract term of not allowing teachers to teach in-class and livestream simultaneously to the at-home cohort dictated the need for many more teachers. Having created the staffing gap that many schools face, the UFT now points to the staffing shortage as the reason to delay in-person learning for all students. The fact is, due to the hard work and careful planning of principals and teachers many schools are now ready to open. 96% of classrooms passed DOE’s ventilation inspections. Many schools can accommodate blended learning with their current teaching staff and they should be allowed to open now. Some are short a few and will be ready to open soon, while some have significant gaps which could possibly take months to fill. The DOE and UFT need to prioritize those schools needing assistance and letting those schools that are ready to open immediately.

Just as the DOE gave each school the choice of which blended models to use, and even approved exceptions, the DOE should allow each school to decide if they are ready to reopen. Students deserve to be back in schools that are ready to receive them.

Many private and parochial schools have been opened for weeks. Charter schools will return to school buildings on [today] Sep 21. Mayor De Blasio has repeated that withholding in-person learning “cheats” our children. Why is the DOE taking away the ready opportunity for children to learn in-person that the City has worked so hard to achieve? It is unfair to keep all schools closed because some schools are not ready. An all or nothing, one-size-fits-all approach is wrong, and is a needlessly bureaucratic plan for reopening 1,600 schools.

PLACE NYC urges the NYC DOE to immediately open the schools that are ready, monitor them closely, and apply lessons learned and best practices as we reopen the remaining schools as they are ready. The end-game is return to in-person education. A school-by-school reopening lets hundreds of thousands of students get back to school as quickly as possible, lets the DOE focus on the schools that need additional support, and makes good sense for students, teachers, principals, schools, families and NYC.