Mayor Bill de Blasio and incoming Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter made the announcement during the mayor's press conference Monday morning.
"Beginning March 18th, our teachers and staff members will enter their buildings and start preparing classrooms," Porter said. "With a .57 positivity rate, our schools are the safest place to be and we are ready to reopen schools for our high schoolers."
But when the doors open to students on March 22, they will not be open to everyone. Only those students who were learning in-person late last year will be free to return to the classroom -- which is just 20% of the total public high school enrollment.
That is less than the approximately 28.6% overall percentage of students currently opted into the system, 315,000 students out of roughly 1.1 million school population.
The mayor says concern about the emerging COVID-19 variants has stalled plans for another "opt-in" opportunity.
"That's something we're looking into, but we're not there yet," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "In the meantime, we want to bring back all the kids we can for high school, right now. And for the maximum number of those kids, give them five-day-a-week, instruction."
For the remaining 80%, that means many more weeks of remote learning.
While the Mayor has promised a 100% return to classroom learning in the fall, the head of the teachers' union said that is premature.
"People have to realize 70% of parents have chosen to keep their children at home," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. "They do not feel that they've been told the truth for quite some time over the course of this pandemic. Hopefully over the past couple months, that has changed. Part of this is a process getting people comfortable with information and hopefully that will lead to a larger percentage of children inside of schools next year."
Mulgrew sent a letter to all staff assuring them all in-person teachers will have an opportunity to be vaccinated before returning to high schools. The union also expects the city will relocate vaccination centers now located in high school buildings.
"In-person high school educators will have the next two weeks to plan for the transition," he wrote. "The city will use that time to relocate vaccination centers now located in high school buildings. Medical accommodations that were granted earlier this year will continue to be honored through June."
About half of city high schools will be able to serve all or most of their students five days a week.
The city's youngest students were brought back first for in-person learning, followed by middle school students last month, and now high school students.
Along with reopening schools, competitive sports will also return next month, as well as strength and conditioning activities.
"This is for the kids, I was a sports parent, I loved going to the games, but this is not that kind of situation, we can't have big crowds, we have to protect everyone," de Blasio said.
The decision offers an opportunity to college-bound athletes like Corday Sydnor, who turned down multiple scholarship offers from Ivy League colleges so he could play football at Perdue University in the fall.
"This last opportunity can be like a life-changing experience in their lives -- who knows, a kid could get a scholarship and probably go pro like that and become an influence on his community," Sydnor said.
The Public School Athletic League will return in mid-April. Competitive play will begin in May, and for the first time, will run through the summer.
"In-person and remote learners will be eligible. Safety is a top priority - weekly testing and masks will be mandated, spectators will not be permitted," the DOE said in a statement.
The city says it has additional capacity to test students and staff each week.
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