As parents decide whether to sign up their children for in-person learning the rest of the school year, the city Department of Education plans to enforce attendance for in-person learners beginning November 30th. Education officials said the decision comes after many students have skipped in-person school days, creating difficulties in staffing and scheduling.

“We want every child to benefit the most, but also if a family actually doesn't choose to use the blended learning, we want those seats to be available for other kids who really do want and need that in-person education,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at his news briefing Tuesday. “It turns out if some parents decide blended is not for them, that means those seats could be used potentially more often by other children who do want – whose families do want them in school."

In an email sent Tuesday reminding families that the final deadline to switch to blended learning for the 2020-2021 school year is November 15th, spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon of the DOE said “we are asking those who choose this option to show up in-person. This will assist schools with programming as much in-person instruction as possible and for as many students as possible.” She added, “We want to make sure that the expectation is clear: if you are in blended learning, your school expects that you will attend school in-person.”

The clarification comes after the DOE revealed last month that 280,000 New York City public school students, about 26% of the total student population, have attended classes in person this fall -- a lower figure than initial projections had assumed.

De Blasio urged families to consider blended learning (NYC's public school system was the first major U.S. city to reopen for in-person learning) as cases remain low inside school communities. He said the mandatory testing protocols in schools have yielded 172 positive results for COVID-19 out of 107,900 students and staff tested since September -- a 0.16% overall positivity rate.

Schools will talk to students who are consistently absent on their in-person days to ensure they want to continue in blended learning -- “given the circumstances brought on by the pandemic, there are accepted reasons behind a student not being in-person in that first week, such as quarantining before or after the holidays, looking after a sick relative, and more,” O’Hanlon said.

Still, families should understand the system needs to be able to use their teachers and staff judiciously, O’Hanlon added.

“The bottom line is this: We are doing this to make sure schools understand each family's decision for their child and, in time, give every student who is in blended learning the maximum opportunity to participate. Our schools cannot continue to hold spots for students who aren’t showing up because teachers, resources, and classrooms aren’t being used to their full potential for students who are showing up regularly,” she said.

The final opt-in period is coming just as COVID-19 rates continue to steadily increase in New York City as well as most of the rest of the country. De Blasio had previously said schools may be shut down if the city’s seven-day rolling average of positivity goes above 3%. On Wednesday, the positive testing rate had risen to 2.52% on the seven-day rolling average.