Charter schools navigate obstacles for fall semester

To say it's a complicated time for schools is an understatement, but it's even more challenging for the more than 135,000 New York City children who attend charter schools. More than half of charter schools are in Department of Education buildings. For now, those charter schools don't even know when they're going to be allowed in their buildings.

"[A lot] of charter schools already operate longer school days and school years so we are accustomed to opening our doors sometime in mid-August. But the city is not working on that timeline, they say 'we'll let you know when we're ready,'" Coney Island Prep CEO Leslie-Bernard Joseph said. "That lack of clarity I think is very frustrating for families." 

More than 1,000 students attend the grade school, middle school, and high school operated by Coney Island Prep. 75% of the students will be the first in their families to attend college. Like other charter schools, Coney Island Prep faces major hurdles and is waiting for answers from the federal government, the city, and state.

Will teachers be provided with PPE? What qualifications are required of nurses now that it's been mandated? And will rapid coronavirus testing be available?

"Schools need to know within hours if not minutes if someone on their campus or within their community has the virus," Joseph said. "It's what we have been pleading for from the government since April."

Joseph then described the steps the staff has taken to prepare for a fall semester that is almost certain to experience interruptions. Coney Island Prep has purchased hundreds of iPad tablets and laptops for students in need and has stocked up on thousands of disposable masks. 

And the staff has done their homework researching how children of different ages fare differently when it comes to remote learning. Joseph cited research indicating that 3 1/2 hours of virtual learning per day is the upper limit for students in kindergarten through second grade; that increases to 5 1/2 hours a day for high schoolers.

And so Coney Island Prep aims to have kindergarten students in class five days a week while high school students will have far more classes remote.

The New York City Department of Education issued this statement to FOX 5 NY: "The health and safety of all New York City students, teachers and staff is our top priority when it comes to reopening school buildings and we are in communication with our charter school partners. We will be releasing guidance soon to ensure safe and equitable space sharing in co-located buildings and we will continue to work with charters throughout the reopening process to help with a successful return to school."

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