Miryam Lopez, 11, waited outside the doors of IS 318 in East Williamsburg with her mom Thursday morning, eager to walk into a classroom and see her teacher and her best friend.
Eager, the sixth-grader said, to get a break from the non-stop remote learning, where she found herself easily distracted.
“It was a bit hard to learn, because you have your phone out, you have your tablet, and you open any site you want,” Miryam said. “So that was a bit hard for me.”
As New York City’s middle schools reopened for in-person hybrid learning Thursday after reverting to full-time remote learning as COVID-19 rates surged last fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio cheerfully announced that 1,203 of the city’s 1,866 public and charter schools were open for in-person learning.
“I know lots and lots of parents are also feeling relief today. It's been a lot for them to have to cover all the bases at once,” de Blasio said at his Thursday press briefing. “Finally, our middle school parents are getting a little bit of relief.”
High schoolers are now the last group of students to stay on full-time remote learning only, with no date for reopening buildings announced, though de Blasio promised more updates in the “next few weeks.”
He also said the Department of Education is open to the eventual possibility of allowing more students in remote learning to switch back in-person learning this year, though a November 2020 deadline has passed.
If vaccination rates increase and transmission rates decrease sufficiently, de Blasio said there is “the hope for the window to open for another opt-in during this school year, and of course, what we're all more and more focused on coming back strong in September where every single child who wants to be in school can be accommodated in school.”
The majority of New York City students are enrolled in full-time remote learning; last fall, only 26% of students attended class in-person. This week’s reopening of middle schools serves a group of 62,000 students, about 30% of the 200,000 total number of students enrolled in public middle schools.
One fan of remote learning, Miguel Roque, 11, begrudgingly came back for his sixth-grade classes at IS 318 Thursday.
"You get to stay at your home and relax while learning," Miguel said. "You don't have to wake up as early to get ready and then come here....But it was like a once in a lifetime thing and I enjoyed it."
The discussion of a potential new opt-in window comes after a number of drastic changes to the city’s original plan, offered last summer to parents -- four times a year, families could decide whether to move to the hybrid mix of in-person and remote learning, or stay on full-time remote learning.
Those plans changed abruptly last November when Chancellor Richard Carranza acknowledged that staffing shortages and programming classes had arisen. New York City students were given one last chance in November to decide whether they wanted to enroll in hybrid learning.
Now, parents frustrated with being locked out of hybrid learning say they shouldn’t be tied to a choice they made months ago in the fall.
“My daughter is remote learning. She has not been given the opportunity to return. It has become incredibly difficult, the remote learning,” said Ian Singleton, father of a first grader in Brooklyn, in a phone call to Gothamist/WNYC this week. “I feel like we're sort of being punished for having chosen remote learning at the beginning.”
One parent dropping off his seventh-grader at IS 318 said his two kids were having trouble with remote learning at home because of isolation and distractions.
“They're home all the time. They're away from their friends,” said father Richard Cabo. “It has behavioral effects on them, too. Like I noticed that just more just like all over the place, you know, and I think that has a lot to do with being in front of a screen.”
At the mayor’s press briefing, Carranza also encouraged parents to opt-out of New York's standardized tests this year, after the Biden administration issued a directive this week for states to resume standardized tests this year. Last spring the state Regents exams were cancelled during the pandemic.
“”Now as an educator, there is no question, we know that children have fallen behind...we know that we don't have to give a summative test for that,” Carranza said.
“So as an educator, I would say to parents, there is an opt-out,” he added. “If there's ever a time for parents to consider whether that opt out makes sense for you, this is the time, because we do not want to impose additional trauma on students that have already been traumatized.”
With Jessica Gould