CORONAVIRUS SCHOOLS BRIEFING: The pandemic is upending education. Get the latest news and tips as students go back to school.
The announcement by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday that schools across the state can reopen in the fall was hailed as yet another sign of New York’s progress in containing the coronavirus.
Even so, many hurdles remain.
Just because schools can reopen does not mean they will do so fully. It also does not mean that parents will feel comfortable sending their children into classrooms — or that teachers will be willing to report back to them. The teachers’ union in New York City has already cast doubts about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ability to safely reopen schools.
“If the teachers don’t come back, then you can’t really open the schools,” Governor Cuomo said. “If the parents don’t send their students, then you’re not really opening the schools.”
Why does it matter?
Remote learning has taken a toll on students. Researchers say not reopening schools may lead to increases in high school dropout rates. Younger children may struggle to learn to read.
If children do not return to schools, racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps are expected to widen because of disparities in access to computers, home internet connections and direct instruction from teachers. Homeless children and students with disabilities will also be disproportionately hurt.
But schools are reopening, right?
Governor Cuomo said schools could reopen, but local politicians and superintendents will now decide whether to do so and how.
The approach will most likely not be uniform: Buffalo’s superintendent has indicated that he may prefer to delay the start of in-person learning until October. In Syracuse, most high school students will probably learn remotely.
In New York City, Mr. de Blasio has called for children to report to school one to three days a week — masks and social distancing will be required — and learn online the rest of the time. But there are concerns about whether there are enough nurses to staff all city school buildings, and some ventilation systems are in urgent need of upgrades.
And all of the school districts’ plans must be approved by the state’s Education and Health Departments in the coming weeks.
Will students and teachers show up?
Even if the plans are approved and schools reopen in some fashion, there is a question of whether parents will send their children to class and whether teachers feel safe enough to come to work.
Some teachers in New York City have threatened to stage a sickout. Their union has indicated it might sue over reopening.
“As Governor Cuomo noted, parents and teachers must be confident that schools are safe before they can reopen,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City teachers, said in a statement on Friday. “In New York City that is still an open question.”