More city elementary students to attend in-person classes as COVID social-distancing rules are eased

Michael Elsen-Rooney and Dave Goldiner, New York Daily News
·2 min read

The city Saturday got the green light to allow more elementary school students to attend in-person classes as state officials backed new coronavirus guidelines that cut the required amount of social distancing for children in half.

The city won state permission to implement new health rules that say grade school students can safely attend classes just three feet apart from one another, instead of the previous six feet.

The shift will allow schools to expand student capacity, permitting more children to fit into city classrooms at once.

It’s unclear exactly how many students will be affected by the new guidelines in part because relatively few students have taken the option of returning to physical classrooms.

Only about 190,000 elementary school students and about 30% of all New York City public school students are attending class in person, with the rest taking classes online.

An undetermined number of elementary schools where students have been limited to just several days a week of in-person classes a week may now be able to allow five days of physical classes.

Families who originally chose all-remote learning hadn’t been able to switch to in-person classes since last November.

The city recently gave students another opportunity to switch to in-person classes. But it hasn’t said how many families signed up, and they haven’t actually gotten permission to return to school yet.

The state’s new three-foot rule for schools reflects evolving medical research on the pandemic and mirrors national guidance issued last month by the Centers for Disease Control.

The city teachers union said it will work with administrators to implement the new rules.

“We will be discussing with the (city) how to reprogram such schools ... while maintaining the other safety precautions that have kept schools the safest public places in New York City,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

The city Department of Education has not yet decided whether or how to implement a similar shift in guidelines for middle and high school students.

The guidelines say that the three-foot rule also applies to middle and high school students as long as they stay with the same group of classmates throughout the day.

That so-called “cohort” rule is supposed to in place now for the older students. But school administrators may need to do additional planning before allowing additional students back safely.