New York City public schools are planning a part-time return to classrooms this fall with in-person instruction two or three days a week, officials said Wednesday.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the system of 1.1 million students to close in March. Mayor Bill de Blasio said schools will be back with safety precautions.
"We're going to move heaven and earth and be ready for September — always with safety as the first priority," de Blasio told reporters.
Students across America were forced to take their classes online this past spring, and remote learning will still be a major element of New York City public education this fall, officials said.
But in order for New York City schools to reopen, they'll need a green light from Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and that decision isn't likely to come until August.
"We will open the schools if it is safe to reopen the schools. Everyone wants the schools to be open," Cuomo said. "I'm not going to ask anyone to put their child in a situation that I wouldn't put my child in. That's how I make these decisions."
If and when New York City students get back on campus, they'll see only a fraction of their schoolmates. Each school will divide students into letter groups — such as A, B, and C — with those blocks assigned which days of any given week to be in school.
And on days when a group isn't at school, those students will be taught online.
"We know that we cannot maintain proper physical distancing and have 100 percent of our students in school buildings five days a week," New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said.
"It's just geographically, physically not possible. Health and safety requires us to have few students in the building at the same time."
Larger spaces, such a cafeterias, auditoriums, gymnasiums or even outdoor areas, are expected to be used for instruction so students can be kept safely apart, officials said.
Each school will have to measure classroom dimensions and other spaces, and Carranza expects a typical class to have no more than a dozen students inside at a time.
"The optimum size is nine to 12 students" per classroom, Carranza said.
Students and teachers will have to wear face coverings in class, with exceptions for those with some medical challenges.
Classrooms will be "deep cleaned on a nightly basis" and social distancing will be enforced, Carranza said.
And families not comfortable sending their kids to school during this pandemic can opt for full-time remote learning.
The mayor said young people have to be allowed to see and hear from teachers in person, even under these untraditional settings.
“These kids, they’re going to inherit New York City," de Blasio said. "So we have to prepare them for their lives ahead. The best way to do it is in person, let our educators do what they do best.”
Carranza said principals will have to implement safety rules at their own schools, such as one-way hallways, to minimize contact between students, teachers and staff.
"For example, one-way hallways how do you determine which hallway and which way is it going and which way is it coming back?" Carranza said. "A lot of those little details will really happen at the school site level. Our direction is going to be safety is universal for everyone."
School officials are still considering what, if any, extracurricular activities like sports and music will be allowed to go forward in the fall.
“What will band look like?" Carranza said. “You blow your trumpet, and then you have to empty the spit valve. Well Is that healthy? The new normal will not be like the old normal.”