Next week, parents will begin deciding whether to switch their children back to hybrid learning, a decision given greater weight since the city is allowing the switch to happen only once instead of quarterly as it originally intended to do.
Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the switch, a decision that roiled the United Federation of Teachers union. In a statement, the union declared that the move "violates the plan New York City filed with the state." The plan to reopen schools during the coronavirus outbreak was submitted to the state for review in August and ultimately approved.
Contrary to the UFT's declaration, the city DOE was well within its right to make the change, pointing to a provision in the state's reopening guidance plan that allows education departments across New York to make changes on schools without state approval so long as those changes are made publicly available on its website. In the case of the opt-in policy, that change was updated on its website on October 29th, three days after de Blasio announced the shift. In a statement to Gothamist, the UFT maintains that the DOE did indeed violate the plan. A spokesperson for the union said, "Unilaterally changing parent opt-in timelines breaks faith with families and undermines the state's priority for in-person learning."
The state allows districts to rapidly address local issues that crop up and need immediate attention. But this is a long-term planning issue.
But the suddenness in policy shifts sows even more confusion and frustration for parents expecting the DOE to maintain the course, avoiding any surprising changes. In the case of the opt-in policy change, getting the information out to some parents has proven difficult, according to Sharon Collins, a parent and secretary to Community Education Council 6 in Manhattan.
"A lot of our families don't have internet access in District 6," said Collins. "My concern is that this information is not widely known."
For Jazmin de Valle, a CEC 6 member, the city's about-face on opt-in learning has derailed her plan to consider bringing her children back to school on January.
"It's frustrating that they keep changing their mind," said de Valle. "They're saying that they're listening to parents, and teachers, and everyone else, but I feel like they're really not because if they were it will be more of a steady change."
From the start of schools reopening, the DOE has imposed a multitude of changes that included new reopening school dates and no guarantees that hybrid learning students will receive live instruction. The DOE did not respond to a request for comment over whether its oft and ever-changing policy stance instills confidence in the agency.
CEC 6 represents 15,000 students who attend District 6 schools in Washington Heights, Inwood, and parts of Harlem. On Wednesday, the council formally declared their opposition on the DOE's switch through a resolution demanding the original opt-in policy be reinstated. The council argued that the new policy strong-arms parents into choosing "between their child forgoing an entire year of in-person instruction or returning just in time for flu season and the start of [inclement] weather, which will limit opportunities for time outdoors during the school day."
De Valle does not plan on enrolling her kids back to in-person learning.
For now, the DOE is now giving 14 days, beginning November 2nd, to decide whether they plan on having their children enroll back to school for in-person instruction beginning November 30th. Should parents decide to switch their children back to fully remote only, they do not have another chance of opting back in.
Even with the city forging ahead with its revised plan, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza left open the possibility that the DOE will reverse course yet again. At a Parents Advisory Council meeting Thursday evening, Carranza reportedly told members that "circumstances change" with respect to policy, largely driven by the unpredictability of the coronavirus and perhaps the possibility of a vaccine rolled out en masse.
“Change is the only thing that we can count on," Carranza told members, according to Chalkbeat. “If it’s possible, and if it makes sense, we can absolutely consider another time period where students and families can opt back in."
On the Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, de Blasio backed Carranza's comments made at the parent advisory group meeting, blaming the coronavirus for forcing the DOE to implement changes.
"If something really profound changes out there with the coronavirus that could lead to a different opportunity. But right not it's time for people to make a decision. Schools are safe. It has been proven over and over again. Parents need to decide," said de Blasio. "We've gotta get people to choose and act on it so we can actually array our staffing properly and get kids best engaged."