New York City's public schools will adopt a phased reopening schedule to return students to the classroom, pushing back the start of in-person learning for middle and high school students to October, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.
The new plan will delay the start of in-person learning for middle and high school students in the country's largest school district to Oct. 1, de Blasio said. Kindergarten through fifth grade and K-8 schools will begin in-person instruction on Sept. 29, he said.
All of the city's public school students had been scheduled to return to the classroom on Monday. Only preschools and special education schools will now be allowed to reopen next week, de Blasio said. Remote learning has already started and will continue "as these phases come into play."
This is the second time the mayor has pushed back reopening classrooms, which was supposed to begin on Sept. 10. Earlier this month, de Blasio said the public school system would push back its reopening to Sept. 21 after union leaders voiced concern about the lack of health measures to protect teachers, students and staff from the coronavirus.
"We are doing this to make sure that all the standards we've set can be achieved," he said. The mayor said the changes come after a meeting Wednesday with colleagues, including United Federation of Teachers Union President Michael Mulgrew, who "raised real concerns" about reopening schools.
"The thousands of operational issue reports filed by UFT chapter leaders on behalf of their members demonstrated the huge teacher shortage in our schools that would have made a Sept. 21 opening a fiasco," the union tweeted following de Blasio's announcement Thursday.
Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said during the press briefing that people working in the schools expressed concerned about understaffing. He said that opening Monday "would not have been safe for our students."
The city will add 4,500 educators to assist with in-person learning, including graduate and adjunct professors at the City University of New York, substitute teachers and "several thousand" people who already work for the Department of Education in other roles, the mayor said.
"This is a huge undertaking. It is difficult, it's challenging. It's not the easy way. It is in fact the hard way, but it's the right way," de Blasio said at his daily press briefing.
Parents whose children are enrolled in New York City public schools can opt for online learning at any point during the school year, according to Katie O'Hanlon, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Education. She told CNBC that of the more than 1 million students enrolled in the upcoming school year, more than 40% have requested remote learning as of Tuesday.