New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that he would begin to allow the city’s youngest students and those with special needs to return to classrooms beginning next week, marking another about-face during an already chaotic school year.
De Blasio’s announcement comes 10 days after he closed city schools because 7-day average positivity rates rose to 3 percent, the threshold he had set to shutter the school system. The move angered some parents, who argued that schools should remain open because so few students and teachers had tested positive. The city tested a sample of staff and students across the city and found that less than 1 percent of them had coronavirus.
De Blasio said the first couple of months of school had been instructive, and although he had previously said he would close city schools when weekly positivity rates reached 3 percent, he felt confident that he could keep schools open for younger students – who appear less likely to contract and spread the virus.
“We proved that schools could be extraordinarily safe because we put tremendous health and safety measures in place,” de Blasio said.
Under the new plan, preschoolers and students up to fifth grade will return to classrooms Dec. 7. Special education students will return Dec. 10.
The city, home to over a million schoolchildren, was once the epicenter of the pandemic, the disease spreading quickly through densely populated working-class neighborhoods. It has killed more than 24,000 New Yorkers, and left many more traumatized. Only about half of families chose the city’s hybrid learning option – where children would learn in classrooms some days and would take virtual classes the rest of the time. The other half opted for the fully remote option, with disproportionate numbers of students from Black and Latino neighborhoods – where the virus hit hardest – steering clear of in-person schools.