New York City’s schools will delay in-person classes until Sept. 21, averting the threat of a teacher strike — and putting the nation’s largest school system on track to be the only major urban district to start the fall term with kids in classrooms.
About 37% of New York’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren have elected to learn at home full-time, according to the city’s Department of Education. That means the majority will have a mix of at-home and in-person learning.
Among the 20 largest districts in the country, just New York and Hawaii — a statewide system with schools spread across all the islands— are starting the year with buildings open to students in any capacity. All but 11 of the 50 largest districts are starting the year with 100% remote instruction, according to Education Week magazine.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had staked a political claim to making New York different, after the city was pummeled by COVID-19 in spring. More than 23,000 New Yorkers have died of the virus, including 130 active and retired members of the teachers union.
But the mayor’s office and teachers union leaders could not agree on precautions for reopening classrooms, which left hundreds of thousands of parents and school staff in the dark about how and when school would start this fall.
Pushing back the start of school will give teachers more time to plan and prepare classrooms, said de Blasio, who announced the deal Tuesday. The teachers union plans to spend that time determining whether buildings are safe, union leaders said. Buildings that don’t pass won’t reopen.
The powerful United Federation of Teachers union had balked at de Blasio’s efforts because of pandemic safety protocols. Among their concerns: the lack of testing for teachers, the lack of protective gear and the condition of school buildings in New York that lack good ventilation. The union’s executive committee inched toward a strike Monday, calling for continued negotiations with the mayor to ensure more precautions and recommending teachers authorize a strike if that didn’t happen.
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A key part of the new plan is additional safety measures, including wider availability of COVID-19 testing for teachers and students. Mandatory testing will happen in every school, every month, and additional testing sites will be established, de Blasio said.
If buildings don’t pass a union review ensuring ample supplies of face masks and personal protective equipment, sufficient ventilation and socially distant desks, they will not be able to reopen, according to the deal.
“There may be much more virtual (learning) than anybody wants because of the state of older school buildings and lack of PPE,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union of which the UFT is an affiliate.
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New York’s union leaders had said they agreed with de Blasio on the importance of getting children back to school, both to help parents return to work and because 74% of district students are low-income…