For many kids, seeing their friends and teachers made the day a joyful reunion, and adjusting to new policies like mandatory masks was easy, they said.
Standing in line outside of PS 315 in Midwood, Brooklyn, first grader Isabella Moncada was excited about both the rainbow face mask she was wearing, and being back at her school. “I missed doing drawings and going to the little park with my friends,” she said.
At PS 32 in Carroll Gardens, six-year-old Ramona D’Angelo wore a shimmery mermaid face mask and said she was feeling many emotions -- she was both worried that her classroom might need more quiet corners for social distancing, and also eagerly anticipating seeing her favorite teacher. “Well, I’m excited to see Ms. Ava because my favorite thing to do is art class there,” she said.
Another first grader at PS 32, Liyna Padilla, was matter-of-fact about her school’s mask policy: “It feels good wearing a mask because you don’t want to get the corona,” she pointed out.
Tuesday’s reopening was the second phase of the school system’s staggered reopening. The city’s youngest kids -- 3K and PreK -- as well as students in District 75 schools returned for in-person learning on September 21st. The last phase will happen Thursday, when middle school and high school students come back. And the entire school system -- including the 48 percent of the 1.1 million school kids who elected for full-time remote learning -- started online learning on September 21st.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio warned Tuesday if increasing COVID-19 rates in several parts of the city don’t improve, he will shut down the entire school system -- after the city reaches a 3% positive rate over a rolling seven-day average. On Tuesday, New York City's daily testing positivity rate for COVID-19 had reached 3.25% though the seven-day average was 1.38%.
A few parents told us they still have mixed feelings about in-person classes.
Carrie Gleason's son is in the second grade at PS 315 in Midwood, where she’s worried about the recent increase in rates of COVID-19 cases nearby in what the city has called the Ocean Parkway cluster -- but her son wanted to go back to school in person.
“Seeing the families and having my son see his friends, like he's gonna be in the room with Eli and Nathaniel and with these kids that he knows -- that made me feel a little bit better,” Gleason said.
Delse Bibi Ayesha has been teaching her two kids, one in kindergarten and one in first grade, the new hygiene standards at PS 315. “Please don't touch anywhere,” Ayesha said she’s told her kids. “If you touch it, try to sanitize your hands. And when you go to washroom, wash your hands well, you know.”
Another parent at PS 315, Vaidel Poon, is sending her son to in-person kindergarten -- but not without trepidation. “My anxiety is really high. And you’re just putting them in somebody else's hands to make sure your child is ok,” she said.
Poon chose hybrid learning because she's a teacher herself, and she'll be teaching in person. “Should I just keep him remote and then I teach remote, (with) 60 students I'm assigned to? So it's a really difficult pressure on you,” she said.
Poon's parents will watch her son on his remote learning days when he isn't in school, but she’s worried about their exposure because of their advanced age, and one has Stage 4 cancer.
Remote learning still presented problems for some teachers and parents Tuesday:
From that perspective, one fifth-grade teacher said her special education students really did do better in a classroom setting.
“Teaching in person is better,” said Sherese Jackson, who has taught at PS 295 in South Park Slope for 18 years. “It’s really an in-person profession.”
She had seven students in Tuesday’s class, and made the best of her classroom setup.
“We had the windows open, we had the AC on, we told them ‘of course you can take sips of water,’” Jackson said. “We had a specific bathroom time and we told them ‘if you have an emergency you can go.’”
“They were really really good,” she said of her fifth graders. “This is what I want, I want them to be in school.”
Still, the expectations of teachers felt impossible, Jackson said, and staffing issues remain a big problem.
Jackson is teaching both in-person and remote learning classes despite the United Federation of Teachers union specifically asking that teachers don’t do both. In Jackson’s case, her schedule is complicated because the law requires two teachers to be together in a special education classroom.
“I can’t do two things at the same time which is essentially what they’re asking us to do,” she said of teaching her in-person class and blended remote classes. “You’re doing two jobs and they want you to do both well and you can’t,” she said. "This can't be normal. It's not fair for these expectations and burdens to be passed on to us."
The UFT has filed a grievance against the school on her behalf, Jackson said.
With Katherine Fung