At last, New York City’s public schools should soon be back in session.
Schools are set to reopen next Monday, Sept. 21, 10 days later than originally scheduled — and only after weeks of wrangling between City Hall, students, parents and teachers.
New safety measures are in place for the city’s 1.1 million students and the educators that work with them, and many parents are relieved at the thought of having their children out of the house and occupied. Other parents are apprehensive about sending their children into public environments that could put them at risk of infection.
Here’s what to know about city schools as the reopening draws near:
Opening schools may be less risky than you think
Children crammed into a classroom feels like a bad idea, but many experts say that given the city’s sustained low rate of positive coronavirus test results — which has hovered around 1 percent for some time — reopening schools should be relatively safe, as long as proper precautions are taken.
Still, nearly all the big cities in the country, and many smaller districts, plan to keep learning remote and monitor what happens in New York.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said last month that reopening schools in the city was a “trial run” with good odds for success.
“New York’s chances of getting a good result, even though it is a densely populated metropolitan area, are actually better than in many rural areas, where they’re not nearly as serious about trying to control the virus,” he said.
School will look very different this September
Don’t expect to see throngs of students rushing through the halls: Schools will be more sparsely and intermittently populated this year.
Students will only attend school in person between one and three days a week and study online on other days. Desks will be placed six feet apart, and most classes will only have nine or 10 children at a time, about a third of normal capacity. Hallways will be marked with signs to show where students should line up for social distancing, and windows will be open, even during inclement weather, to allow fresh air to circulate.
Officials plan to improve ventilation and filtration systems, and to distribute four million face masks, 3.5 million bottles of hand sanitizer, 80,000 containers of disinfectant wipes and use more than 3,500 electrostatic sprayers to disinfect surfaces.
Around 600,000 families intend to send their children back to school. White parents were more likely to say their children were returning than Black or Latino parents, according to a recent poll by the Education Trust, a research group.
Reopening school is especially important for students who have struggled with remote learning, like the city’s large populations of poor, disabled and homeless students.
Even after the delay, challenges remain
Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to delay reopening after an outcry from elected officials and after the city’s formidable teachers’union threatened a strike.
Mr. de Blasio agreed to some of the union’s demands, like random coronavirus testing of between 10 and 20 percent of students and staff in all city school buildings starting in October, but much remains to be done.
The department of education will need to hire enough staff members to simultaneously hold school online and in person, and the city needs to hire nurses for every school building, distribute personal protective equipment and upgrade school ventilation systems. And the reopening experiment has not gone well for New York’s colleges, many of which have seen outbreaks of the coronavirus after students returned to campus.
On Monday, Mr. de Blasio announced that 55 department of education employees had tested positive for the coronavirus as schools prepared for reopening.
That number is less ominous than it seems, said my colleague Eliza Shapiro, an education reporter.
“The 55 positive cases is actually an extremely low positivity rate of 0.32 percent, so not a grim sign at all,” Ms. Shapiro said.
From The Times
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The Mini Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.
What we’re reading
New York Police Department response times are longer compared to last year. [The City]
A state senator dug into 311 data to determine that drag racing complaints have soared around the city. [NY Post]
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said he planned to allow trick-or-treating this Halloween. [News 12]
And finally: A campaign to save a third party on the ballot
If you fill out your ballot in a hurry, it might be easy to miss some of the third-party options, like the Serve America Movement Party and the Independence Party.
Now a progressive stalwart on New York ballots, the New York Working Families Party, is fighting for its spot, my colleague Dana Rubinstein reports.
Because of rules backed by Governor Cuomo, the Working Families Party must win at least 130,000 votes or 2 percent of the total vote — whichever is higher — for its party line during the presidential election this November, or forfeit its automatic spot on New York’s ballot.
The party needs to persuade voters to choose Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala Harris, but as part of the Working Families ticket rather than the Democratic slate of candidates. (Votes for the Biden-Harris ticket will still count toward their total.)
The party has organized a campaign featuring Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among other politicians. It will also have phone banks, text messages and digital ads.
“We are singularly focused on doing the organizing that’s necessary to win and to exceed the threshold and to build the base that comes with it,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, the state director of the New York Working Families Party.
Historically speaking, third parties almost never regain their ballot line after they lose it.
“Advocates for third-party ballot argue that it’s all about giving voters a choice beyond those offered by the two major parties,” Ms. Rubinstein said, before sharing a quote from Michael Volpe, the state chairman of Serve America Movement Party.
“The framers of the Constitution talked of the threats that parties could bring to democracy,” Mr. Volpe told her. “Other voices are necessary in the dialogue so that different positions get vetted properly.”
It’s Wednesday — don’t give up your spot without a struggle.
Metropolitan Diary: Bay Ridge stoop
A whiff of salty air takes me back to Bay Ridge, 6th Ave.
I’m a kid again, sitting on our stoop. Me and Marlene.
Nana watching at the window.
We hear, “Hello girl.” A toddler stops to stare at us.
“Hello other girl.” Her mother smiles.
She got us giggling and giggling!
It always makes me smile to remember
giggling with Marlene on our Brooklyn stoop,
the little girl — and the salty air.
— Barbara Young