With about 1.1 million students spread across 1,800 schools, the New York City public school system is the largest in the nation, making reopening in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic especially challenging. As such, Mayor de Blasio announced a blended reopening plan for September. “Through a mix of in-school and at-home learning we can make more space in every classroom and building,” the mayor said.
Schools will offer different models depending on the space available, and families may choose all-remote learning over in-school programming. There will probably be about a dozen people in a classroom at a time, including teachers and aides. There are three different models for principals to choose from, the most generous of which would apply to schools that can accommodate about half their students. Two cohorts of students would cycle in and out on alternating days that remain consistent throughout the semester. More crowded schools will have three groups of students who attend school just once or twice a week.
Still, there are deeper issues to consider. Remote learning has been an enormous hardship on parents who must juggle that with working remotely. For parents whose jobs cannot be done remotely, there is the issue of providing childcare. Certainly, some parents will be able to adjust their work schedules based on their children’s schooling, but many will not be. What about families who have multiple children that are on different schedules? Or in different schools? What about the transportation of students? The economic impact is enormous.
There is also a supply chain issue. Paramount is the health and safety of everyone in schools and so the issues of daily cleaning, the availability of personal protective equipment, and COVID testing for school workers and students must all be in abundance. Furthermore, so many New York families rely on schools to provide daily meals. How does this impact the number of people coming to the building each day? And of course, there are the contractors. How do the building needs shift with the new models and are the suppliers involved in these conversations?
Something that the city may wish to consider addressing many of these issues is to go hyperlocal. Local food communities filled the food gap at the height of COVID and they can continue to do so. To that end, perhaps empty storefronts can be used as learning annexes to both relieve capacity at schools and ensure that students would not have to travel far. Clearly, this is an extremely complex issue with lots of moving parts but the balance between keeping COVID at bay with the economic recovery of our city is tied to getting this right.