Reopen NYC: Online student orientation begins amid teacher protests

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NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- With the start of school in New York City just a few days away, online orientation for students got underway Wednesday.

The intention is to focus on students' social and emotional well-being and lay out some of the practicalities of how this unprecedented school year will work.

But teachers are warning they are anticipating problems with the orientation, which is set to run through Friday.

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They don't think the school system's portal is going to be ready for all the students.

The protest is the latest in a series of concerns being voiced by teachers as the countdown continues to Monday's scheduled start of in-person learning.

Educators say they still don't feel safe, that schools just aren't ready to handle the pandemic.

Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted they'll get extra help, but school will not be delayed any longer.

"We're starting on Monday," the mayor said. "We said repeatedly it will not be a perfect start. We will be making a lot of adjustments in the weeks after we begin to continue to improve things, but the important reality here is to say we're going to start best education possible in-person and possible remotely. We're going to keep making improvements as we go along"

At a protest on Monday in Brooklyn, teachers highlighted their concern over the fact that a handful of schools in the city that still lack proper ventilation.

And while most teachers have been back at work preparing, teachers at PS 139 in Flatbush, Brooklyn will not be in the building Wednesday after getting word that a second teacher there tested positive for COVID-19.

11th grader Mellanie Islas stopped by the school Wednesday after helping her little brother with his orientation.

"They were just answering most of our questions, but we're not really sure what's going to happen with kids who need extra help," Islas said. "So we'd really like to know what's going to happen with that. He's going into 3rd, so it's really overwhelming since he needs extra help"

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In addition, principals say there just aren't enough teachers, that students who are doing part-time online learning may not even have a teacher.

The DOE has issued new guidance to principals, saying they have "flexibility" in scheduling synchronous instruction to blended students.

It removes the requirement to have a live teacher during the remote part of learning, a last-minute shift aimed at helping alleviate a massive staffing shortage.

"We continue to emphasize flexibility and patience while putting health and safety first and this week we took an important step committing to an additional 2,000 staff members in schools. As we continue to add staff to buildings that need it, synchronous learning for remote students in schools will increase in frequency and our goal is to do this as quickly as possible. Blended students will continue to have the benefit of live, full day, in-person instruction each week," DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson said.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew says teachers are not getting what they need from the city.

"They're doing their work, they're trying to plan," said Mulgrew. "But they're getting very frustrated and angry with what they consider to be rhetoric coming out of City Hall every day, versus reality."

CSA President Mark Cannizzaro also criticized the DOE's instructional guidance.

"Even though today is the first day of remote learning for all New York City students, the City still has no comprehensive, adequate plan for fully staffing our schools," Cannizzaro said in a statement. "The DOE's last-minute announcement that live instruction is no longer required during remote days for blended learners is obviously an attempt to deal with the staffing crisis that CSA has been warning the DOE about for months. Though an increased focus on in-person learning is necessary due to pressing safety concerns, last night's decision to change instructional guidance will not solve the most glaring, urgent problem: far too many schools still do not have enough teachers for in-person learning when school buildings reopen for students on Monday.

Mayor de Blasio said it's difficult because, "Our educators are doing a really great job creating every possible way to make it work. But the truth is, remote teaching isn't in any way as good for kids as in-person teaching."

De Blasio says despite all of these issues more than a million students are on track to star in-person part of learning on Monday.

The mayor meantime also announced that there would be no snow days this school year. Rather, kids would be directed to remote learn for the day in the even that in-person classes could not be held due to weather.

With the school start delayed this year, the city is concerned because it still needs to meet the 180-day instruction requirement, under state Education Department guidelines.

The DOE released a statement saying, "As we reopen schools for this critical school year we are utilizing all of the lessons learned from remote schooling this spring to maximize our students' instructional time. This includes providing remote instruction during both Election Day and snow days."

RELATED: City Council members push to delay in-person learning



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