Educators and parents hosted an in-person outdoor learning session at P.S. 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to help communities envision how they can make use of outdoor space and how outdoor learning can be accessible in any community with street access and without many resources.
The event was held on a closed street adjacent to the school, with teachers leading pre-K students from the school in activities to model the potential uses of outdoor space for safe learning this fall.
"The teachers are really heroes in all of this," parent Heath Fradkoff said. "And they are doing what they can with what they've been given, and they are going to take as good of care of our kids as they can."
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They delivered a message not just for the kids, but also for the Department of Education: Give teachers permission to take their lessons outside.
"Every school special and different and unique," teacher Nikki Laugier said. "If they are able to get these permits to be able to do this, I mean, I think that's the biggest thing right now, but absolutely."
The teachers and parents readily acknowledge that outdoor learning comes with obstacles. Mother Nature can certainly dampen the environment, and P.S. 15 sits next to a construction site.
"The background noise is always a distraction, particularly with children of this age," parent Jenny Kalia said. "It's pretty hard to block that out."
Teachers, parents, and elected officials are advocating for the city to do more to ensure all schools have the resources necessary for outdoor education to be a safe and equitable option for all.
"Outside learning is going to be incredibly complex and has many elements that are not ideal for learning," City Council member Carlos Menchaca said.
Still, Menchaca and others give administrators gave credit for the creative approach in finding another option to deliver a lesson plan in a safe, socially distant setting.
"I'm advocating for this," parent David Chung said. "I am in support of this. I think it's a great idea. There are some obstacles that we can overcome and I don't want to get stuck on concerns."
Meanwhile, de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza toured P.S. 59 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, next to the Sumner Houses city-run apartment complex, which will be opening for 60% remote learning, 40% in person. One teacher at the school asked for a health accommodation.
The mayor said all building inspections should be completed by the end of Wednesday, with "a very small list of problematic buildings."
He said 301 outdoor learning plans have been approved, including P.S. 59, which is starting outdoor learning with physical education and some dance classes in the back playground.
De Blasio reached a deal with both the teachers' and principals' unions to delay in-person learning until September 21, with remote learning set to begin on September 16.
School was previously scheduled to begin with a blended approach on September 10.
"There is nothing more precious than taking care of the children of New York City," de Blasio said. "Resolution has been found in a constructive spirit. We've come to an agreement to move forward."
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However, one caucus within the United Federation of Teachers says it's not happy with the plan, calling it a backroom deal. Instead, the MORE-UFT wants in-person schooling delayed until there are no new cases for 14 days.
They also want financial support and childcare options for families; full funding of schools; and parent, teacher, and student decision making in reopening.
Still, the UFT's Delegate Assembly approved the health and safety plan by 82% on Tuesday night.
"The union's governing bodies -- the 100-member Executive Board and the 3,200-member Delegate Assembly -- approved the agreement by overwhelming margins," a UFT spokesperson said.
Staff will report the day after Labor Day, and teachers will begin preparing their classrooms on September 10.
Students will log on for remote learning for three days beginning on September 16, with blending in-person learning starting September 21.
"Teachers who usually get two days of professional development at the beginning of the school year will now get nine," Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said. "We've heard from everyone in our schools that have said we need some more time...This will strengthen and improve and make it so we have the safest start the school year."
Still, he urged parents and students to have "flexibility and patience."
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There will be a monthly medical monitoring program for every school in the district, to be governed by health leadership, and the program will assess a certain number of kids in each school each month on a mandatory basis. There will also be a 30-day supply of PPE in all schools at all times.
"This is what I would hold up as an example of how to get things done," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said. "We now can say that the New York City Public School system has the most aggressive policies and greatest safeguards of any school system in the United States of America."
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Once in-person learning has begun, the DOE will establish a mandatory, robust system of repeated random COVID testing of adults and students. Under the new agreement, any student who refuses to be tested will be required to attend school remotely, and any staff member who fails to comply with mandated testing will be placed on unpaid leave.
Beginning immediately, prioritized access to testing will be available to students, teachers, and DOE school-based staff at 34 sites across the city. These sites will give priority to all DOE workers so they can quickly be tested, and provide results within 24 to 48 hours.
Then, beginning October 1 and recurring each month, it will be mandatory for schools to test a random 10-20% sample of their students participating in blended learning and on-site staff population. Families will be asked to sign a consent form at the start of the year for their child to participate at random and will be notified ahead of time if their child has been selected for the month.
"We think we're going to get a strong positive response," de Blasio said. "It's a self-swab test. It's a Q-tip, not the long apparatus that goes farther up your nose. I've done that one, I don't want to do it again. I like the Q-tip. I think parents will feel comfortable with that. It's free. We'll go about the process of getting those consent forms."
Mulgrew said the decision on whether to re-open a building to students will be based on the UFT 50-item safety checklist, including social distancing of student desks, the availability of masks and face shields, and a room-by-room review of ventilation effectiveness.
Buildings or rooms that do not meet safety standards will remain closed.
Students or staff found to have the virus, even in the absence of symptoms, will be quarantined for 14 days. City tracing teams will be dispatched to school immediately to determine potential contacts.
The presence of a COVID-19 case or cases confined to one class will result in the entire class moving to remote instruction, and more than one case in a school will mean that the entire school will move to remote instruction until the contact tracing is completed.
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Schools will need to switch to 100% remote instruction if the percentage of positive tests in New York City is equal to or more than 3% using a 7-day rolling average, but even if the overall case rates across New York City were to remain low, all school buildings could be closed if there were recurrent uncontrolled outbreaks in schools.
Additionally, any New York City zip code that reports a percentage of positive tests of 3% or higher using a 7-day rolling average will be saturated with additional testing and tracing including, but not limited to, increased testing of individuals in schools, opening new testing sites, door-to-door canvassing and targeted robocalls for at least a 14-day period or until such time as the 7-day rolling average for positive tests is below 3%, whichever period is longer.
Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro issued the following statement:
"New York City school leaders are among the most talented and dedicated in the world, and if given adequate time, resources, and discretion, they will do everything in their power to keep their communities safe and provide students with the high quality education they deserve. We commend Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza for making the right decision to delay in-person learning. The task before us is still monumental, so it is incumbent on the DOE to seize this time in support of school leaders so that these additional days will provide a much needed opportunity to implement necessary safety protocols, program classes, and align all school staff towards critical goals for this unimaginable school year."
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