Several weeks before Mayor Bill de Blasio closed New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest amid a rise in coronavirus cases, he handed parents a deterrent deadline: They had only a few weeks to decide if their children would return to classrooms in this school year. and probably until at least next fall.
This week, New Yorkers returned with their verdict: Only about 35,000 children who had been in distance learning at the beginning of the school year asked to switch to personal learning each time city schools reopened.
The number of families choosing to return to classrooms represents both a great disappointment and surprise to the mayor, who has said he has a mandate from his parents to reopen schools. Parents were asked to make the fateful decision about how their children would learn for the rest of the school year, while the threat of system-wide closure threatened. All city schools closed for personal learning indefinitely Thursday, though the mayor has promised to reopen them as soon as possible.
But this number could actually be lower when classrooms reopen. Students can switch from personal learning to online tutoring at any time this school year, but the mayor has said they can no longer sign up for classroom tutoring.
The latest figures came as many parents, teachers and elected officials were put into an intense debate over whether the city’s schools should have been closed at all. Nevertheless, the figures show that the conflict over personal instruction is relevant to a minority of urban families.
It highlights a harsh reality for Mr. the Blasio administration, which has put schools at the center of pushing to revive New York City and its economy after it became a global epicenter of the virus this spring.
And the fact that nearly half of black and Latino families have chosen to keep their children at home undermines the mayor’s argument that public school parents, who are overwhelmingly low-income color parents, demanded open classrooms.
The mayor had expected that most children would return to school buildings because of the widely recognized inferiority of distance learning compared to personal classes and the enormous childcare challenge that distance learning has created for working families.
“I think if you theoretically went from March 2020 to September 2021 and a child never came into a classroom with a teacher and caring adults who can help them, it would have been a massive mistake,” said Mr. De Blasio in a radio interview Friday morning before the new tracks were released.
Now the mayor is presenting a school system in which white children, who make up only 15 percent of the public school population, have had a disproportionate presence in classrooms during the pandemic. The latest survey of parents showed that white families opted for distance education at the lowest rates in any racial group.
New York differs from the rest of the country for the sheer size of its public school system: The number of children set to return to classrooms is roughly equivalent to the total enrollment in Miami’s public school district, the country’s fourth largest.
Still, the numbers fell far short of the mayor’s predictions.
In July, Mr De Blasio said he only expected approx. a quarter of parents would keep their children in school at home when schools reopened. It was clear in October that the city would fall markedly below this target, but the mayor still called the preliminary registration number “an ongoing work” when he announced it.
Now this figure seems to be more final.
After initially promising that children learning externally will be able to choose personal classes once every quarter, the mayor said last month that parents would only have one option to sign up for the rest of the school year.
He justified the change by explaining that the city needed a better sense of who was actually showing up to classrooms. As the number was so much lower than expected, principals could not properly plan school plans. It is likely that when schools reopen, at least some schools will be able to accommodate more students in several days due to the relatively low enrollment.
The results raised pressing questions about why the city had spent so many months rushing to prepare school buildings, while spending relatively little time improving distance learning. Almost all children will spend much of their time learning remotely, and around 700,000 students spend their entire week taking online instruction.
These numbers can send a signal to other major districts across the country about parents’ willingness to send their children back to classrooms.
Despite the fact that schools have reported very few virus cases and that everyone from the president of the teachers’ union to the city’s biggest public health experts agree that schools are generally safe, most families will simply not return while the pandemic is still raging.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of black, Latino, and Asian-American children – including many students with disabilities and children living in homeless shelters or public housing – will learn from home full-time.
About 60,000 children who have requested devices from the city before distance learning have not received them, and others are still struggling to connect to Wi-Fi.
There is no single reason why so many families have not sent their children back to schools, and it would be a great simplification to say that any race or ethnic group agrees on personal learning.
And there are still many thousands of children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds left in classrooms. But the demographic differences between those who have chosen to return to classrooms and those who have not are striking – and so far the mayor has directly resisted tackling these differences.
Non-white families in New York have experienced significantly poorer health outcomes from the virus than their white peers, and many city students live in multigenerational households where it would be particularly dangerous to bring the virus home.
The mayor’s stopping approach to reopening schools did not help either. The many delays in personal classes made some parents wonder if the city was really ready or if it was safe.
For some families, the consistency of full-time distance learning was better than just a few days in the classroom a week over the ever-threatening threat of closure. Other parents had said they would not consider sending their children back until there was a vaccine, even though the city had implemented its reopening plan flawlessly.
Most families agree that distance learning is a poor substitute for personal classes, but some have said that despite the limitations of online instruction, the risk of illness is just too great.
Even some parents who originally sent their children back to classrooms this fall have since decided to keep them at home.
Krystal Jordan, who lives with her son in a homeless shelter in Queens, decided to switch to distance learning after her son said the school felt too restrictive, like a “prison”. But distance learning has not been a success either, she said.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Mrs Jordan. “He logs on to school and the teacher tries to do it like a real class the best she can, but sometimes the device doesn’t work and WiFi is slow.”
She did not know if her son’s schedule would change when personal team was shut down. “There is so much unrest in general,” said Mrs. Jordan, “that it is difficult to focus on schoolwork.”
Many parents said their children were very happy to be back in the classroom, and some parents of students with disabilities said that personal teaching had been nothing but transformative for their children.
But parents who chose hybrid learning also said the limitations of part-time education were discouraging.
An agreement this summer between the city and the teachers’ association has created a significant shortage of staff, which has not yet been resolved. Many large colleges had asked all students who could to learn from home so that these schools could offer all of their electives, significantly reducing the number of enrollments.
Still, many parents who chose hybrid education said that their children’s happiness in being back in school buildings had outweighed the problems of part-time education.
Many of them are devastated that schools are now closed, including many parents of children with disabilities.
Kristin Giantris, a single working mother who lives in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, said she fears returning to full-time distance learning.
The services her son needs, Mrs Giantris said, “do not translate on the computer.”
“My child is losing his self-esteem, his people’s skills,” she added. “He does not want to be smart enough. I physically look at him fade in terms of personality. ”
Juliana Kim and Emmett Lindner contributed with reporting.