Hours before students are supposed to turn on their computers and devices and reacquaint themselves with remote learning, New York City education officials decided to scale back the amount of live instruction for students who've opted for a mix of in-person and at-home learning.
The policy—coming amidst a staffing crunch—does not impact fully remote learners, who will receive the same daily amount of live learning as before. Instead, students who attend school in person two or three days a week may not necessarily receive any live instruction on days they are learning remotely at home.
“We continue to emphasize flexibility and patience while putting health and safety first and this week we took an important step committing to an additional 2,000 staff members in schools," said DOE spokesperson Danielle Filson. "As we continue to add staff to buildings that need it, synchronous learning for remote students in schools will increase in frequency and our goal is to do this as quickly as possible. Blended students will continue to have the benefit of live, full day, in-person instruction each week."
The news dropped late on Tuesday evening, ahead of the first day of "Remote Orientation," where families will see if they can even log on for a three-day refresher course in understanding remote learning. Remote learning was rolled out in the spring as the pandemic forced Mayor Bill de Blasio and the DOE to transform the learning experience for 1.1 million students—and tens of thousands of teachers—into a virtual one.
The hybrid learning policy was introduced in the summer as part of NYC's strategy to reopen the schools: Students would be able to learn in a classroom—instead of exclusively on a screen—receiving in-person instruction one to three days a week in person. Parents could also to return to work. On days where hybrid students are not in school, they were to receive some live instruction during the day amidst learning remotely.
So far, 42% of students have opted to be fully remote, with the rest choosing hybrid learning. Hybrid learners are able to switch to remote at any point during the school year.
The DOE has admitted there is a teacher staffing shortage across the city, and said earlier this week that 2,000 teachers were being added.
For students in fully-remote learning, students are promised a certain amount of live instruction, according to the DOE's website. This includes 30 minutes of screen instruction for students in 3K and Pre-K; 65 to 95 minutes for kindergarten through second grade; 90 to 110 minutes for students in third to fifth grade; 80 to 100 minutes for middle school students; and 100 to 120 minutes for high school students.
Live instruction times will vary across schools–there will be some schools initially able to meet the original time ranges for live instruction that were set earlier this summer, while others may ramp up to those levels over the course of the fall.
The policy shift can have principals racing to refine schedules, and teachers to rework their lesson plans. But the move does address a potential violation of a deal struck between teachers and the city, in which in-person teachers would not also have to teach virtually. The stipulation forced schools to divide teachers into two cohorts: in-person and virtual. The DOE hopes this new policy will help ease staffing shortages.
In a statement, Mark Cannizzaro, president for the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, called the announcement an "attempt to deal with the staffing crisis that CSA has been warning the DOE about for months."
Cannizzaro added, "Though an increased focus on in-person learning is necessary due to pressing safety concerns, last night’s decision to change instructional guidance will not solve the most glaring, urgent problem: far too many schools still do not have enough teachers for in-person learning when school buildings reopen for students on Monday.”
The first day of teaching will be Monday, September 21st, for students in both hybrid and remote learning. New York City is the only large school district attempting in-person learning.