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De Blasio to Reopen NYC Elementary Schools amid Backlash

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks with principal of P.S. 59 as they tour a classroom following the coronavirus outbreak in Brooklyn, N.Y., September 2, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

New York City schools will begin reopening for in-person classes on December 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday, after he closed public school buildings earlier this month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The country’s largest public school district ended in-person instruction on November 19 after the city’s seven-day average hit a 3 percent positive testing rate, a threshold set during negotiations between the mayor and teachers’ unions, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend a 5 percent infection rate threshold for school closures. 

Many were critical of the mayor’s decision to shut down schools while indoor dining and gyms, which data show are more likely to spread the virus, remained open in the city.

After facing backlash for the abrupt school closures, de Blasio says 3K, Pre-K and grades K-5 can resume in-person classes on December 7 and schools will no longer be forced to close at the 3 percent threshold. Instead, students will be tested at random every week and parents will have to sign a consent form for every student that takes in-person classes.

De Blasio said a “little bit of extra work” would be required to reopen District 75 schools and special education programs. All grades in District 75 schools, which provide instruction for students with significant needs, are set to reopen beginning December 10.

The city has not yet announced when middle and high school students will be able to return to in-person classes.

“It’s less concern about the spread when it comes to younger kids,” de Blasio said. “Also the demands that our parents are going through. I feel for all our parents who are experiencing so many challenges right now, how important it is for them to have their younger kids in school, how important it is at that age both educationally, socially, but also in terms of how parents juggle all the challenges in their life.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that safely opening schools is “the right direction and the right decision.” 

Almost 330,000 students are eligible to return to school. The mayor said the goal is to get as many schools as possible on a regular five-day, in-person class schedule.

“Getting our kids back in school buildings is one of the single most important things we can do for their wellbeing, and it’s so important that we do it right,” Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza said in a statement. “The unparalleled value of in-person learning for students has been evident in the first few months of school, and we will do everything we can to keep our schools safe and keep them open for the duration of this pandemic.”

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