Coronavirus Update New York City: NYC announces date for middle schools to reopen to in-person learning

Coronavirus update for NYC
NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City's public middle schools will reopen following winter break, the Department of Education announced Monday morning.

Teachers will report the week of February 22, with students returning to class on February 25, and about half of middle schools will reopen to five day a week instruction.

The rest will have part time in-person schedules, with the goal of working towards full time.

Those teachers and staff who return to school buildings will be prioritized for vaccinations over winter break.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said there is enough testing capacity to test the middle school students, and he still hopes to reopen high schools this school year, though no timetable has been announced.

"I was struck immediately by the extent to which, right away, we will have a number of middle schools at five day a week, either for the whole school community or at least a majority," he said. "This is something that keeps evolving as we get a clearer sense of which parents really choose to have their kids in school in person. Those who want their kids in person, we want to get them as many days, ideally five days a week. Those who don't or are not sure about it, then remote is right for them. But we will certainly have a number of schools doing five day a week for a very big chunk of their student community. We want to keep building that out."

Classes will be open to the middle school students who previously opted in, about 62,000 students.

"To keep up with additional schools and make sure we are not compromising on safety, we will increase capacity of our weekly testing teams as well as our situation room," DOE Press Secretary Miranda Barbot said.

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The city says it can conduct about 120,000 tests per day.

"Under the terms of its agreement with the state, the city has the right to reopen more schools when it has built enough capacity to maintain its strict in-school coronavirus testing standard," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said. "The city has announced that it has created enough testing teams and acquired the necessary lab capacity to reopen middle school grades and buildings. The UFT will be monitoring to ensure that the testing regimen, the presence of personal protective equipment and social distancing requirements are strictly adhered to as new grades and buildings reopen. These strict standards, and the requirement that buildings close temporarily when virus cases are detected, have made our schools the safest places to be in our communities during the pandemic. They will continue to be the strongest protections for the health and safety of students and staff."

When students returned to schools for the second time, in December, the city only reopened pre-K through fifth grade and District 75 schools, with mandatory weekly testing for at least 20% of the school population.

Concerns have been raised that there may not be enough testing capacity to handle the middle schools.

Mulgrew wrote at the end of last year that, "The in-school testing that should provide an early warning system for rising infection rates is already strained, making it unlikely that the system could meet the challenge of testing a significant number of reopened middle or high schools."

Meanwhile, in a statement, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) President Mark Cannizzaro commended the decision to return middle school students to in-person learning.

"We are pleased that middle school students will soon join elementary and D75 students in returning to in-person learning, and we commend the city for committing to provide vaccines to all in-person staff to ensure their ongoing safety," Cannizzaro said. "The city has assured us that they will continue to build testing capacity in school buildings and improve their ability to inform students and staff of building or classroom closures within a reasonable timeframe."

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