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5 big questions as New York City students head back to school

New York City’s public faculties are welcoming back students Monday who’ve already lived by means of 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic and have confronted unprecedented challenges when it comes to studying.

While some issues are sure as lessons start — just like the vaccine availability for kids 12 and over — how the school yr unfolds is crammed with unknowns as the delta variant ravages the U.S. Here are 5 main questions about what the 2021-22 school yr will entail.

1. How a lot distant or alternate studying will probably be doable?  

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced in August that every one kids will study in-person 5 days every week, with no distant possibility. 

Students who’re immunocompromised, or who’ve a selected medical situation listed by the Department of Education (DOE), together with most cancers or a number of sclerosis, are eligible to apply for “medically necessary instruction.” That will principally be offered by way of an online platform, in accordance to the DOE, and could be offered in-person at house if crucial.  

The case is totally different if students attend class in particular person, however then have to quarantine. 

In elementary school, if a pupil comes down with COVID, they’re required to quarantine for 10 calendar days together with the remainder of their class, as there are not any vaccines presently accessible for kids underneath 12. If a pupil in center or excessive school will get COVID, they’re directed to quarantine for 10 days, together with different unvaccinated students who’re shut contacts of their lessons, and vaccinated students who’re exhibiting signs. Those shut contacts can check back in on the eighth day in the event that they’re damaging for COVID. 

If a whole classroom is compelled to quarantine as a result of a pupil will get COVID, students will obtain reside distant instruction, in accordance to the DOE. If just a few students at school have to quarantine, they may get “asynchronous remote instruction, with support from teachers through office hours,” in accordance to the company. Teachers will probably be paid for that point.

Not everyone seems to be pleased with the in-person studying mandate. Several City Council members pushed back at a Sept. 1 hearing with DOE Chancellor Meisha Porter.

“Although the hearing lasted over five hours, we didn’t get many clear answers, just lots of Jedi mind tricks,” New York City Councilman Justin Brannan, a Democrat representing Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, advised MarketWatch. “Among other things: We need a remote option, not just a remote contingency plan. We need to know exactly how social distancing will work in woefully overcrowded schools…it doesn’t make sense to me that the DOE would be so adamantly opposed to even considering a remote option for those families that may prefer it.”

More from New York City: Meeting vaccine hesitancy, one calm answer at a time 

The lack of a distant studying possibility for all students has additionally rankled some dad and mom. Angela Torres lives within the Throgs Neck neighborhood of the Bronx, and has an 11-year-old daughter who attends the Urban Institute of Mathematics center school. Torres is the president of the school’s PTA, and in addition concerned within the Bronx Parent Leaders Advocacy Group, which has been advocating for a distant possibility. 

“Why not allow for a remote option, even if it’s for a limited amount, let’s say 20%?” mentioned Torres, who added that she anxious there was not sufficient COVID testing, and a scarcity of social distancing in school rooms. “It’s a difficult decision to be made. And some parents feel caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Dr. Jessica Justman is an epidemiologist at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and senior technical director at ICAP, a worldwide public well being group.

“I think, at a population level, it’s going to be much better for the vast majority of the kids to be in school and have in-person learning,” Justman mentioned. “You then just have to step back and say, you know, how many children could potentially be hurt by this? And what are the options for protecting them?”

2. What would set off a full-scale school shutdown? 

A school could be closed if the town’s well being division decides that there’s “widespread transmission” within the school.  

Widespread transmission could be proof of a number of sources of an infection in a number of areas or cohorts inside a school, a spokesperson for the well being division advised MarketWatch.  

The DOE has mentioned that it expects closures to be restricted. Other school districts, from California to Mississippi, have had to shut some faculties after starting the 2021-22 school yr.   

3. What occurs if a instructor or school employees member doesn’t get vaccinated? 

De Blasio announced in late August that every one DOE workers, together with workers based mostly in faculties, will be required to obtain no less than one dose of the vaccine by Sept. 27.  

The mayor mentioned in an interview with MSNBC that metropolis officers have been engaged on a set of “penalties” and mentioned “there will clearly be consequences if someone doesn’t comply.”  

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) union fought with the town over what would occur to their members who aren’t vaccinated, and filed a criticism with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Also see: Back to school with the threat of the delta variant — some parents once again call for remote learning

The metropolis and union have been in arbitration till Friday night negotiating what would occur to school workers who can’t or received’t get the vaccine. The arbiter ruled that the town should supply non-classroom work to lecturers and employees with sure medical situations that forestall them from getting the vaccine, or employees which have spiritual exemptions, in accordance to the UFT. Teachers and employees with out medical or spiritual exemptions who refuse the vaccine have to be provided unpaid go away, however have to be allowed to preserve their medical health insurance. Those who decline unpaid go away have to be provided severance. 

“As a group, teachers have overwhelmingly supported the vaccine, but we have members with medical conditions or other reasons for declining vaccination,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew mentioned in an announcement. “After our demand for independent arbitration, the city backed off its initial position that all unvaccinated personnel be removed from payroll, and will offer out-of-classroom work for those with certified medical or other conditions.”

4. What security measures are in place when students return to school rooms? 

Masking, social distancing, air purifiers and COVID testing will all be a part of going back to school this yr, in accordance to the DOE.  

Schools will attempt to observe social distancing (*5*), which recommends sustaining 3 toes of social distance between students. However, many individuals, together with excessive school principals, have identified that received’t be doable in each school, Gothamist reported. 

Students and employees could have to put on masks whether or not or not they’ve been vaccinated, in accordance to the DOE. Students will probably be ready to take away the masks whereas consuming lunch, and there may also be masks breaks as lengthy as students are distant from one another. Students who can’t put on masks for medical causes will “be provided with alternate accommodations,” in accordance to the town’s DOE, although it’s unclear what which means. 

As for testing, each school will test up to 10% of unvaccinated students twice a month, not together with kindergarten and prekindergarten. But testing is an opt-in association, requiring consent from households. 

“Schools really need to figure out a way to make testing very easy for anybody who’s symptomatic and in fact to encourage them not to come to school. Don’t walk around for two days with symptoms,” Justman mentioned. “I think if you are focusing in on the unvaccinated children, I would test them once a week.” 

5. What occurs if households don’t ship their kids to school? 

Some households that MarketWatch spoke with mentioned they don’t need to ship their kids to in-person school on Monday, even when these students don’t qualify for medical exemptions. 

Those households are going to wait and see what occurs the primary week of school, with many hoping that the town will cave and implement distant studying. 

“I’ll be keeping my children home the first week of school, and if there are no changes, I’ll have to enroll them in home schooling,” mentioned Alisha, a mom in Richmond Hill, Queens, with a 7-year-old scheduled to begin second grade on Monday. She requested solely her first identify be used out of privateness considerations.

Related: Number of children and teens with COVID-19 exceeds 250,000 for first time since start of pandemic, as mask and vaccination fights continue 

At a press briefing Wednesday, de Blasio mentioned that if a dad or mum wasn’t prepared to ship their children to school initially of the school yr, the town would “keep trying to convince them.” 

“Our priority is the safety of our students, and ensuring that they return to our school buildings this fall,” a spokesperson for DOE mentioned in an announcement to MarketWatch. “Our staff exhaust all options to contact and support families and every student every day, including reaching out to learn why students missed school and how to help remove barriers to attendance.”

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