NEW YORK — New York City schools will not fully reopen on Monday as planned, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday — agreeing to another delay in his push to bring back in-person education in the nation’s largest school district during the coronavirus pandemic.
Teachers and principals had raised a host of objections to the city’s reopening plans, including a shortage of teachers and worries over safety.
“They had real concerns about specific things that had to be done to make sure our schools could start effectively, start safely,” de Blasio said Thursday.
Under the threat of a teacher’s strike, de Blasio had previously agreed to delay the first day of school from Sept. 10 for the city’s 1.1 million students. Just this week he insisted schools would be ready for in-person instruction come Monday, only to again backtrack days before the deadline — upending the plans of parents and students who had expected to return to school on Monday. Families have also faced frequent changes to what kind of classes they will get, who their teachers will be and what their schedules will look like.
But de Blasio was unapologetic.
“Everyone is trying. Everyone is giving it their all. It’s incredibly difficult,” he said. “The vast majority of parents appreciate that we’re trying to bring back schools for their kids, rather than giving up. And I think there’s a lot of places that did give up, and we won’t give up.”
De Blasio said the city’s parents, who are mostly Black and Latino and working class or low-income, expect some hiccups.
“They’re a lot more pragmatic than you might imagine,” he said.
He declined to offer a guarantee that the start of school would not be delayed again. The city plans to close its schools if the positive coronavirus test rate hits 3 percent.
Only pre-kindergarten, early education classes for 3-year-olds and special education classes will open in person on Monday. Elementary schools and K-8 schools will now open on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Middle and high schools will open on Thursday, Oct. 1. For students who choose to attend in person, they will go to school a few days a week while learning at home on other days, in order to keep classes small and allow social distancing.
The key obstacle that derailed the planned school reopening was a shortage of teachers, the mayor and union leaders said.
The city is requiring separate teachers for in-person and remote classes, meaning its normal compliment of teachers is far short of the number needed to pull off the hybrid model. The staffing shortage has been clear since at least Aug. 27, when that policy was announced and principals began sounding the alarm.
But de Blasio said it was not until an hourslong meeting on Wednesday with United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew and Council of Schools Supervisors and Administrators president Mark Cannizzaro that he was convinced the problem was real enough to change his plan.
The union leaders appeared with de Blasio Thursday to announce the delay.
The city now plans to bring on another 2,500 teachers, on top of the 2,000 additional teachers announced earlier in the week.
They’ll rely on graduate students, adjunct professors from the City University of New York, and substitute teachers to reach a total of 4,500 new teachers. But Cannizzaro, the principals union leader, said those teachers would only be enough to staff elementary schools, and more will be needed for middle and high schools. The principals union had called for 10,000 new teachers.
All students are expected to begin remote learning on Monday. More than 40 percent of families have already opted out of in person classes and chosen to do online education only.
In recent days, the city has reversed its promise to provide live online classes to students on days they’re at home because of the teacher shortage. At the same time, some schools are planning to have students take only online classes even when they are physically in school.
Teachers and principals have also continued to voice safety fears, with some teachers refusing to enter their school buildings this week, saying the city has responded too slowly when a staffer tests positive for Covid-19. A random sampling of students and teachers will be required to get tested monthly when in-person instruction resumes.
Poor ventilation is still a problem at some school buildings, as is the supply of protective equipment.
“We would all rather not be here today having this announcement,” Cannizzaro said.
“We would much rather be talking about opening schools on Monday to all our students,” he said. “Opening Monday to everyone would not have been safe for our students.”
The city has rejected models, like livestreaming classes, that would have allowed schools to operate with fewer teachers and allowed remote students to view real-time classes.
“We are not going to be a school system that puts a camera in the middle of a classroom and you see a teacher every once in a while walking in front of the camera,” Mulgrew said. “We will not give that type of horrible instruction to the students of New York City.”
De Blasio said he was convinced that even with some students in crowded schools going in only one day a week, and even with the repeated delays, in-person schooling was superior to the all-remote plans many other large school districts in the country are pursuing.
“Nothing replaced the in-person experience. There are some out there who suggest that remote education should be our future, and I want to say no, it can’t be,” he said. “If what we wanted to do was the simple, easy thing, we all would have said, hey, let’s go all remote. We know we’ll be cheating kids and cheating families.”