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Doubts persist as NYC's hybrid school year is set to start

By The Associated Press
Posted 1:06AM on Wednesday 16th September 2020 ( 2 days ago )

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City's already delayed school year is scheduled to start remotely Wednesday in a soft opening that will serve as a prologue to the return of students to physical classrooms next week.

Even as more than 1 million kids remotely return to class, its an open question whether the city can pull off the hybrid learning system Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in July.

Unions representing teachers and principals in the nation's largest public school district say schools still don't have the teachers or the coronavirus safety measures that are needed, but de Blasio, a Democrat, has insisted that the school year will start as planned with three days of online orientation this week.

Students begin returning to their physical classrooms Monday for the first time since last March when COVID-19 forced the closure of schoolhouses in New York and across much of the nation.

The reopening comes as an average of around 240 people a day are still being diagnosed with the coronavirus in New York City, one of only a few large U.S. cities attempting to start the school year with students in physical classrooms.

Under de Blasio's plan, the majority of students will be in their schools between one and three days a week and home learning on screens the rest of the time. About 42% of families have requested online-only instruction.

All students are supposed to connect with teachers and classmates online in a three-day orientation starting Wednesday that will focus on students' social and emotional well-being and lay out some of the practicalities of how this unprecedented school year will work.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, teachers and administrators are still working furiously to prepare for the physical return of students to classrooms. And there is still sparring going on between city officials and unions over safety precautions and staffing levels.

Mark Cannizzaro, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents principals, said the mayor’s promise to send 2,000 additional teachers into the system to fill gaps created by social distancing requirements still leaves the district “woefully” short-staffed. He says city principals asked for more than 10,000 new teachers.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, questioned both staffing levels and coronavirus safety.

“Right now we still don’t have a teacher for every classroom for students who come in,” Mulgrew said Tuesday on TV station NY1. “We still don’t know if all the schools are being cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis because custodians have not been given all the proper equipment to do those things.”

Some teachers protested outside their schools on Monday. “Now that school staff are back in school buildings, it is clearer than ever that the mayor’s reopening plan is not safe,” the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a militant UFT caucus, said in a statement.

De Blasio has waved off the union complaints. “We’ve been talking about it for weeks and weeks,” he said at his coronavirus briefing on Tuesday. “School is opening on Monday the 21st.”

The city plans to do random testing of students and staff for the virus starting on Oct. 1. The mayor said Monday that a COVID-19 “situation room” would be set up to respond swiftly to school coronavirus cases.

FILE- In this Sept. 2, 2020 file photo, teachers and students participate in an outdoor learning demonstration to display methods schools can use to continue on-site education during the coronavirus pandemic, at P.S. 15 in the Red Hook neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. New York City's already delayed school year is scheduled to start remotely on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in a soft opening that will serve as a prologue to the return of students to physical classrooms on the following week. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE- In this Sept. 2, 2020 file photo, parents bring their children to participate in an outdoor learning demonstration to display methods schools can use to continue on-site education during the coronavirus pandemic, at P.S. 15 in the Red Hook neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. New York City's already delayed school year is scheduled to start remotely Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 in a soft opening that will serve as a prologue to the return of students to physical classrooms on the following week. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE- In this March 13, 2020, file photo, students at Stuyvesant High School in New York leave after classes end for the week. New York City's already delayed school year is scheduled to start remotely Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 in a soft opening that will serve as a prologue to the return of students to physical classrooms on the following week. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
FILE- In this March 15, 2020 file photo, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, addresses a news conference at UFT headquarters in New York. As New York City's school year takes the first steps toward opening on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, Mulgrew has questioned both staffing levels and coronavirus safety. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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