NEW YORK (AP) — New York City's public middle school buildings will open this month after being closed since COVID-19 cases began to surge in November, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.
The 62,000 students in grades 6 through 8 whose families have chosen in-person learning — out of a total of 196,000 city students in those grades — be back in their classrooms on Feb. 25, officials said.
“As we’ve said from the beginning, nothing can replace in-person learning and the support that our students receive in person,” said schools chancellor Richard Carranza, who joined de Blasio at a virtual news conference. “We’re so thrilled to be able to provide that.”
The timing of the return to classrooms will allow officials to prioritize COVID-19 vaccine appointments for affected school staff members during the midwinter school vacation from Feb. 15 to Feb. 19, the officials said.
Families in New York City's massive public school system were given the choice of all-remote learning or a hybrid system with students in their classrooms part time when the school year started last fall, but rising COVID-19 cases prompted de Blasio to close all school buildings on Nov. 19.
Some elementary school students returned to school buildings on Dec. 7, but middle schools and high schools remained closed to in-person instruction. No plan for reopening the city's high schools has been announced.
After closing schools in March, New York City was one of the first large U.S. cities to reopen school buildings last fall, but the vast majority of parents chose online-only learning for their children.
Masks, social distancing and frequent coronavirus testing are required at school buildings that are open, and schools can be closed again if two or more COVID-19 cases appear in a school independently of each other.
Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that the union would be “monitoring to ensure that the testing regimen, the presence of personal protective equipment and social distancing requirements are strictly adhered to as new grades and buildings reopen.”
The head of the union representing school principals and other administrators said he was pleased middle-school students would be back in school.
“We commend the city for committing to provide vaccines to all in-person staff to ensure their ongoing safety," said Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, in a statement.
De Blasio said many students have struggled with the isolation of remote learning, and he welcomed the chance to open more physical classrooms.
“Our kids really benefit emotionally, intellectually and even in terms of their physical health getting out to school, being in the school community, being somewhere where there’s caring adults who can help them out in so many ways, and a lot of kids have not done well with the isolation and need a chance to be back in a school community,” the mayor said. “And we’re convinced we can do it safely.”