Remote learning begins as 56 coronavirus cases reported at NYC schools

New York City's already delayed school year started remotely Wednesday in a soft opening that will serve as a prologue to the return of students to actual classrooms next week.

Even as more than a million kids remotely return to class, it's an open question whether the city can pull off the hybrid learning system Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in July.

It comes as concerns remain over the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Education released a list of schools with 56 positive coronavirus cases among staffers who returned to school buildings last week.

According to the DOE, two cases in separate classrooms were identified within seven-days at PS 811X The Academy for Career and Living Skill on Longfellow Avenue, which reopened Monday after a deep clean and investigation. Two cases in separate classrooms were reported at PS 139 and were being investigated. The building was closed for an initial 24 hour period.  All individuals who tested positive were isolating.  

1. P..S. 158 Bayard Taylor
2. East Side Elementary School, PS 267
3. High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies
4. Esperanza Preparatory Academy
5. P.S. 161 Pedro Albizu Campos
6. Paula Hedbavny School
7. P.S. 154 Jonathan D. Hyatt
8. P.S. 130 Abram Stevens Hewitt
9. Longwood Preparatory Academy
10. P.S. 070 Max Shoenfeld
11. P.S. 056 Norwood Heights
12. P.S. 214
13. P.S. 536
14. P.S. 011 Purvis J. Behan
15. The High School for Enterprise, Business and Technology
16. P.S. 001 The Bergen
17. J.H.S. 088 Peter Rouget
18.  M.S. 267 Math, Science & Technology
19. P.S. 243 The Weeksville School
20. P.S. 161 The Crown
21.  P.S. Michael Friedsam
22. P.S. 149 Danny Kaye
23. Academy of Innovative Technology
24. Liberty Avenue Middle School
25. P.S. 177 The Marlboro
26. I.S. 228 David A. Boody
27. P.S. 139 Alexine A. Fenty
28. P.S. 361 East Flatbush Early Childhood School
29. P.S. 197 The Ocean School
30.  P.S. 055 The Maure Magnet School of Communication Arts, Technology and Multimedia
31. P.S. 349 The Queens School for Leadership and Excellence
32.  PS 84 Steinway
33. I.S. 281 Joseph B. Cavallaro
34. P.S. 97 The Highlawn
35.  Frederick Douglass Academy VII HS
36.  Francis Lewis High School
37. P.S. 090 Horace Mann
38. I.S. 230
39.  P.S. 111 Jacob Blackwell
40. P.S. 78
41. Space Shuttle Columbia School
42. New Dorp High School
43. Tottenville HS
44. The Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability
45. P.S. 13 ML Lindemeyer
46. P.S. 377 Alejandrina B. De Gautier
47. The Brooklyn School for Social Justice
48. The Academy for Career and Living Skill
49. PS 10 in the Bronx
50. Robert E. Peary School
51. Walter J. Damrosch School
52. Passages Academy Bronx
53. Mid-Bronx CCRP Early Childhood Center, Inc.
54. Bedrock Preschool (NYCEEC)
55.  CO Family of Services
56.  P.S. 009 Walter Reed School

Unions representing teachers and principals in the nation's largest public school district say schools still don't have the teachers or the coronavirus safety measures that are needed, but de Blasio, a Democrat, insisted that the school year would start as planned with three days of online orientation this week.

“We’ve said repeatedly it will not be a perfect start,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “We’ll be making a lot of adjustments in the weeks after we begin to continue to improve things. But the important reality here is to say we’re going to be providing the best education possible in person, the best education possible remotely, we’re going to keep making improvements as we go along, we’re going to keep adjusting and figuring out what we need in terms of staffing.”

Students began returning to physical classrooms Wednesday for the first time since March, when COVID-19 forced the closure of schoolhouses in New York and across much of the nation.

The reopening comes as an average of around 240 people a day are still being diagnosed with the coronavirus in New York City, one of only a few large U.S. cities attempting to start the school year with students in physical classrooms.

Under de Blasio's plan, the majority of students will be in their schools between one and three days a week and home learning on screens the rest of the time. About 42% of families have requested online-only instruction.

All students are supposed to connect with teachers and classmates online in a three-day orientation starting Wednesday that will focus on students' social and emotional well-being and lay out some of the practicalities of how this unprecedented school year will work.

Catarina Garcia said the first day of kindergarten for her son, Jayden Rosario, consisted of an hourlong video conference with his teachers at Public School 33 in Manhattan.

“Overall, they did a good job,” Garcia said. “It was a lot of reading, talking, and singing. Similar to school, just different because they’re not there.”

Garcia said she chose remote-only instruction rather than sending Jayden into the classroom part-time because she fears a resurgence of the virus.

“I’m not going to take the risk of everything popping up,” she said. “My son’s not going to be a test dummy."

Sandrine Plympton, whose son Lucas will start in-person school at nearby Public School 11 next week, said Wednesday's video orientation consisted of the teacher meeting the kids and going over how the school year will work.

Lucas, a third-grader, said online school is "OK, but sometimes when my hair’s wet I feel like it’s embarrassing. So I turn off the camera.”

Behind the scenes, teachers and administrators are still working furiously to prepare for the physical return of students. And there is still sparring between city officials and unions over safety precautions and staffing levels.

Mark Cannizzaro, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents principals, said the mayor’s promise to send 2,000 additional teachers into the system to fill gaps created by social distancing requirements still leaves the district “woefully” short-staffed. He says city principals asked for more than 10,000 new teachers.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, questioned both staffing levels and coronavirus safety.

“Right now we still don’t have a teacher for every classroom for students who come in,” Mulgrew said Tuesday on TV station NY1. “We still don’t know if all the schools are being cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis because custodians have not been given all the proper equipment to do those things.”

Some teachers protested outside their schools on Monday. “Now that school staff are back in school buildings, it is clearer than ever that the mayor’s reopening plan is not safe,” the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a militant UFT caucus, said in a statement.

De Blasio has waved off the union complaints. “We’ve been talking about it for weeks and weeks,” he said at his coronavirus briefing on Tuesday. “School is opening on Monday the 21st.”

The city plans to do random testing of students and staff for the virus starting Oct. 1. The mayor said Monday that a COVID-19 “situation room” would be set up to respond swiftly to school coronavirus cases.

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