What’s next for New York schools? It is complicated.



New York’s school communities are increasingly concerned about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s lack of concrete details for the fall.

Whether families hope to stay totally away or have their children already back to school five days a week – a situation made possible by the fact that the majority of students still learn exclusively at home – they want more clarity on this. what the next school year will look like.

Directors and other administrators, however, are on hold. Without more guidance on social distancing, distance learning, and medical accommodations for teachers, they can’t know how many children their classrooms can accommodate, if they will be forced to offer in-person instruction. and remotely, or how many teachers. will eventually return to the classroom.

“Until some issues are resolved, we can’t do any planning,” said Tom Carty, director of PS / IS 49 in Middle Village, Queens. “I feel bad because a year later I’m still answering questions with ‘I don’t know’. I can see the anxiety on the parents’ faces.

Typically, around this time of year, schools have started to set the stage for next year’s teacher assignments, a complex logistical puzzle that depends on knowing the number of teachers needed to staff each course. .

“Two weeks ago it was a little too late to find out next year,” said Stephen Lazar, a Harvest Collegiate High School teacher in Manhattan and a former class planner.

Principals fear they will find themselves in a situation similar to that of last summer, where last-minute shifts, including two delayed back-to-school days, paved the way for a volatile year.

Here are some of the unanswered questions:

What will the social distancing guidelines look like?

Schools in the city recently reduced social distancing rules from six feet to three feet for elementary grades, and kept the six-foot rule for middle and high schools. Even with this move, some buildings cannot accommodate all of the students who have chosen to participate. Lunchtime – which still requires six feet of social distancing – is only achievable on many campuses because it’s springtime and students are eating out.

United Teachers’ Federation president Michael Mulgrew told members this week that the three-foot rule could be repealed in the fall as coronavirus rates plummet, according to the New York Educators Blog. He again raised questions about masks and ventilation.

At the start of this school year, advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for keeping all students six feet from each other. In response, New York City offered families two options: full distance education or blended learning, where students were in person part-time and distance-learning the rest of the week. An agreement between the city and the teachers’ union suggested that schools would need separate teachers for students in each group.

Without hiring three times as many teachers, schools came up with creative solutions – sometimes offering less live instruction to many children on distant days or quietly bypassing the city’s deal with the teachers’ union and classes in. direct for students in the building and at home. These workarounds have upended weeks of planning in some schools.

“The biggest hurdle this year was adequate staffing,” said Carty, whose school typically has 40 classes, but this year had to staff 121 classes for all three learning modes. “The size of my school tripled, and I did not have the necessary staff.”

Its special education teachers, for example, broadcast live lessons to ensure children with disabilities received support on distant days. The education department also allowed some special education classes, which typically had two teachers, to only do so under certain circumstances.

Space constraints might still be an issue in other schools for in-person learning. With about 61% of his students in person, Michael Perlberg, principal of MS 839 in Brooklyn, had to borrow three classrooms from the school that shares his building. Even if his school reached one meter of social distancing, it would run out of space for around 100 students, he said.

“The sooner we know these things, the easier it is to plan,” Perlberg said. “It’s really hard to do that for August.”

Many other questions remain: will students be able to move freely between classrooms? Will many schools have to continue to offer Zoom in to a Room, where students learn virtually while on campus? This option allowed some students to stay at home because it was so unappealing, families said.

Of course, city officials are also grappling with unknowns that can make planning difficult, including how the virus will evolve in the coming months and the degree to which the students and educators will be vaccinated by fall.

People aged 16 and over can already get the Pfizer vaccine, and the United States Food and Drug Administration has extended authorization for emergency use of this particular vaccine to children. from the age of 12 Monday. Pfizer and Moderna should seek permission to vaccinate children as young as 2 September.

Will teachers be able to request medical accommodations to work remotely?

Another major sticking point for next year is whether teachers at high risk of complications from the coronavirus will be able to obtain medical housing for remote work next year. Some parents at schools where students still learn on laptops while on campus have complained that educators stay home despite prioritizing the coronavirus vaccine.

About 21,000 teachers, or 28% of them, have housing available until June. Education department officials said they would have more information on next year’s directions in the “coming weeks.”

This problem has become a critical issue in some schools, especially those with large numbers of teachers with accommodations, such as Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn.

About 40% of teachers in Murrow have been granted medical housing, the principal said at a school leadership meeting in March, according to minutes accessible to the public. “Maybe 25% to 30%” could still require medical adjustments in the fall, the school’s teachers’ union representative said at the meeting, according to the minutes.

The vaccine is not compulsory and the education service cannot request a vaccination record, according to the United Federation of Teachers. It is highly unlikely that the same percentage of accommodations will be granted in the fall, but it remains to be seen what types of rules will remain in place for medical accommodation.

“Housing away from staff is a huge, huge issue,” said a high school principal, who was not authorized to speak publicly, explaining that the difference between even having 2% distant teachers versus 5% can be meaningful. “Do we need to hire people?”

Schools typically hire teachers now, but may not be able to do so as they do not yet know their staffing needs.

Other staffing issues that need to be negotiated with the teachers’ union pose additional challenges, including the ability for teachers to broadcast lessons live or the length of the school day. This year, kids are only in school for five hours and 20 minutes, an hour less than usual, to give teachers more planning time.

Will schools be required to offer a full-time distance learning option?

This is a giant missing piece of the puzzle that probably contains many other pieces. Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Meisha Porter appeared to indicate there would be a remote option in the fall. But lately, they have dodged the question. Instead, they reiterate their hope that all students will return to school in person by September 13.

Without this information coupled with what is happening with the accommodations, schools remain in the dark on key staffing issues, even though schools have already started making hiring decisions. They also don’t know what that might mean for their registration numbers.

Districts are grappling with this problem across the country, some commit to offering a virtual option for families who want it, or with a limited option, like in Washington, DC, where students can learn remotely if they can demonstrate the need to stay at home. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the governor has sought to block school districts to offer virtual learning.

If New York City has a distance option, will schools have to manage it themselves? Would it be managed centrally or by districts?

Several principals told Chalkbeat they had mixed feelings about it: They want their students to continue to be part of their community, but managing multiple modes of schooling is a significant burden.

“While I generally prefer that all students be part of my school community, I don’t think it’s possible for us to manage our own remote options for families,” said the principal of an elementary school in Manhattan, requesting anonymity. “I think families should be strongly encouraged to return to in-person learning, minus a medical exception process or mitigating circumstance. This small group of students should receive central and non-formal education. “

Carty agreed that he would prefer a remote district or centralized option, even if that meant he risked losing more students. This year his school has lost around 50 families, either to Catholic schools or because they left the state or even the country, he said.

“I have children whose parents want them to be away. I would hate them to leave my community, ”he said. “At the same time, the remote control increases your capacity.”


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