NEW YORK - Thousands of middle school students in New York City returned to their school buildings for the first time since the city's schools closed in November amid a surge in coronavirus infections.
"Well, it is truly a beautiful day in New York City," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Everyone, so happy to be back in school, middle school now back all over the city."
Students receiving in-person instruction are required to wear face coverings at all times, maintain distance from others and submit to random COVID-19 testing.
Maddie, Oliver, Adam, and Thiago left their parents at home and returned to their sixth-grade classrooms at the Booker T. Washington School on the Upper West Side, Thursday, for the first time in more than three months.
"It’s pretty nice to actually go to school instead of looking at your teacher on Zoom," Maddie said.
"It is great because we’ve been stuck inside for so long," Oliver said.
"It’s good to get out of the house," Adam said.
"I’ve been tired of going on Zoom all day long," Thiago said. "And also my mom has been really mad for the past few months about it."
All four students expressed both joy and relief to see each other and their teachers in person and expected their parents also appreciated their return to the classroom.
"I think there is a fatigue," sixth-grade parent Manisha said. "Personally, I feel that, working full-time from home."
Manisha picked up her daughter Samara from Booker T. Washington, Thursday, and expressed hope the school might soon expand upon one in-person day a week.
"I’m happy just to get them out of the house," she said, "to get them back in a schedule."
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew spoke outside McKinley High School in Bay Ridge, Thursday morning, to mostly applaud the city’s approach to in-person schooling during this pandemic.
"There is no substitute for in-person learning," Mulgrew said.
The teacher’s union backs the so-called two-case rule, which forces a school to close if it detects two or more unrelated cases of the coronavirus. The mayor’s promised to re-examine that rule.
DeBlasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza toured Leaders or Tomorrow Middle School in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx, touting the current .58% COVID positivity rate at city schools.
"Even behind the masks there was such joy and excitement on the faces of our students," Carranza said.
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"Such a shame I can’t wear my pajamas to school," sixth-grader Maddie said.
Approximately 62,000 sixth-to-eighth-graders returned to the city’s 471 junior high schools, just a third of all those enrolled in New York City public middle schools.
"Even though it’s not the full class, it’s still nice to see everyone," Thiago said.
High school students in the city remained at home Thursday. The mayor said he plans to release his plan for the reopening of city high schools in the coming weeks. The teachers union said it has yet to see any evidence the city yet has the testing capability to reopen high schools.
With the Associated Press.