Mayor encourages schools to hold outdoor learning sessions

New York City officials will work to make outdoor instruction space available in parks and on closed-off streets in an effort to prevent new coronavirus infections when school starts next month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

"We want to give schools the option to do as much outdoors as they can," de Blasio said. He said principals of the city's 1,700-plus public schools would be asked to submit plans for outdoor learning either in their own schoolyards or in parks or streets near their schools. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said he would work with the city departments of transportation and parks to make the approval process "as non-bureaucratic as possible."

Public health experts have urged school districts planning in-person instruction this fall to use outdoor space as much as possible because the risk of coronavirus transmission is so much greater indoors. "Get as much outdoors as you can. If you look at the superspreader events that have occurred, they're almost always inside," Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said earlier this month.

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De Blasio announced earlier that the school year would start with most students attending class in person part of the week and receiving instruction remotely the rest of the time. The push to enable outdoor instruction gives principals who are working to finalize their hybrid instruction plans another task to complete with less than three weeks to go before the first day of school on Sept. 10.

"Though the idea of outdoor learning has real merit, the city's plan will not be implemented nearly as well as it could have been if the mayor had simply given principals the time and support they need," Mark Cannizzaro, the president of the union that represents city school principals, said in a statement.

Also on Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that low-contact high school sports including tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey and swimming can start on Sept. 21. Athletes playing higher-risk sports including football can start practicing then but won't be able to play games yet, Cuomo said.