Petition pushes for NYC to allow outdoor learning this school year

A new petition started by parents in New York City is pushing the Department of Education to create outdoor classrooms for children when school begins again this fall, in order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The plan would be modeled after the city’s Open Streets Program.

“The science is clear,” the petition reads. “We know that transmission rates of COVID-19 are massively reduced outdoors. A combination of street closures adjacent to our public schools and a reimagining of our vast network of public parks will provide much of the needed outdoor space to make an outdoor schooling program achievable and successful for all.”

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So far, the petition has nearly 2,000 signatures as of July 21. However, the proposal does raise one obvious question:

“I think it’s a good idea to move them outside but come October, November, December, what then?” one New Yorker asked.

Holding school outdoors during a New York winter may seem far-fetched, but it has historic precedent. A photo from the Library of Congress from the early 1900s shows New York City students in an open-air classroom under blankets at naptime, during a tuberculosis outbreak.

“You could make heated tents, you could have plastic tents with the sides on them, the key is having a flow of fresh air, of course,” said Adrian Benepe of The Trust for Public Land and former NYC Parks Commissioner. 

According to Benepe, between schoolyards and public park space, the city has the space for outdoor learning.

“These are very unusual times and we have to think in unusual ways,” Benepe said.

New York City has said it is exploring all options and spaces for students once school resumes, but it seems unlikely that they would commit to outdoor learning by August 2, the petition’s deadline. 

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