Some New York City middle school students in grades six through eight will return to classrooms on February 25, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.
About 62,000 middle school students who opted for in-person learning will return that day, said NYC Department of Education deputy press secretary Danielle Filson.
Teachers and staff will return the prior day, de Blasio said.
NYC Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza said he was “thrilled” to announce the return. Both the mayor and chancellor stressed the effects of isolation that students and teachers are feeling.
The DOE is hiring additional staff to support its situation room, the pandemic planning and response center, Carranza said.
Teams also will be added to conduct weekly Covid-19 testing in middle schools, and weekly testing in elementary schools will continue, he said.
Teachers returning to work in person are being prioritized for vaccine access at city hubs from this Friday through February 21, over mid-winter recess, he said.
New York City’s test positivity rate is about 8%, de Blasio said at a news conference Monday. He said about 5 out of every 100,000 people were hospitalized with suspected Covid-19.
When asked about the possibility of a coronavirus surge due to highly contagious new variants, the mayor said fundamental Covid-19 safety measures — social distancing, cleaning, wearing masks and having good ventilation — still work.
“If everyone were doing the things we were doing in our schools, the whole situation in the city would be different — and better,” de Blasio said.
Chancellor Carranza said air purifiers have been added in every middle school, and schools will continue working closely with the health department.
New York City public schools closed to in-person learning in November after the citywide seven-day test positivity rate for Covid-19 exceeded 3%.
The mayor introduced that 3% threshold at the beginning of the school year. The city has since decided to abandon it.
In December, elementary school classrooms reopened for students.
Two key factors fueled the push to reopen elementary schools: Younger children have struggled the most with online learning, and younger students also appear to have the lowest rate of coronavirus spread.
It was not immediately clear when high school students might return to classrooms. But de Blasio said he would like for them to return by the end of this school year.
“We’re certainly going to look at high schools next,” but more work is needed, he said.
With elementary students and some middle school students returning to school, New York City public schools will have about 250,000 students in classrooms by the end of this month.
New York City public schools is the nation’s largest school district, with more than 1.1 million students.
But across New York City, enrollment — both in-person and online — has dropped by 31,000 students as of December. The decrease in New York City has mirrored an alarming nationwide trend during the Covid-19 pandemic.