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25,000 remote students sign up for in-person learning 2 days after opt-in window opens: de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Meisha Porter join school leadership at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice in the Bronx, to greet high school students and celebrate reopening. Monday, March 22, 2021. Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

A student stands in line to return to Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice in the Bronx. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that 25,000 fully remote students have so far signed up to return to classrooms for the remainder of this school year.

Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office

About 25,000 fully remote students have so far signed up to go back to classrooms for the remainder of this school year, just two days after New York City opened the opt-in period, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

That number represents nearly 4% of the students who have chosen to learn from home full-time. Families have until April 7 to indicate their interest in returning for some in-person learning this year. The city has not yet announced a return date for these children.

So far, the city is only promising to allow students in grades pre-K-5 to return before extending the invitation back to middle and high school students. But they asked all families to indicate whether they wanted to return. City officials did not say how many of these 25,000 students are in pre-K and elementary school.

The education department had previously promised that fully remote families would have a quarterly option to sign up for in-person learning, but then reneged on that, closing the window in November. Some 35,000 remote students signed up at that time. 

The city opened a new opt-in window this week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance on physical distancing in schools, allowing for three feet of distance instead of six feet between students, in most instances. The six-foot rule remains in place for when children are eating — another detail that city officials said they are figuring out.

The CDC said that three feet of separation is acceptable in elementary schools regardless of the level of coronavirus transmission in the surrounding community. For middle and high schools, three feet is only acceptable when transmission is not high, which is defined as a 7-day average of 100 or more new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people or an average 10% positivity rate over the past week — whichever of these is higher. The CDC considered every county in New York City as having “high” levels of transmission, based on data from March 17 - 23.

Many details remain unclear, including whether schools will be able to combine cohorts of students to allow more children to return five days a week. Education department officials have only said they are still working out details. The city’s teachers union said they were consulting with independent medical experts before agreeing to changes, putting city schools in a holding pattern.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers union, noted that the state is still reviewing the new federal guidance.

“Everyone in NYC has sacrificed too much for the system to rush blindly ahead, particularly given the emergence of the variants and the fact that while adults are vaccinated, children are not,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “This is a medical, not a political decision, and we will continue to rely on what our independent medical experts say, and what might be physically possible.”

De Blasio does not want schools to decrease the number of days for current in-person students, he said, but some schools are concerned about how to handle a large influx of new opt-in students without altering current schedules. Many schools have had to change around teacher assignments multiple times this year as the size of in-person and remote classes have shifted throughout, and while many are eager to have more students back, some worry that this latest move could bring more disruption for the remaining three months of the year. 

De Blasio wasn’t sure if families rushed to sign up as soon as the option became available or whether students would continue to opt in at a similar rate until the window closes.

“I can’t tell you what the trend line will be,” de Blasio said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer show. “I can tell you that 25,000 [kids] in two days certainly says something.”

De Blasio, who has offered few specifics about what next school year will look like, aims to have students returning to campuses five days a week, along with offering a fully remote option for those who are not ready to return to buildings. 

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