Tens of thousands of public school kids will head back to their middle school classrooms Thursday for the first time since November, in a new era of the COVID-19 vaccine that has seemed to offer some hope amidst a rocky school year.

As the citywide positive testing rate for COVID-19 passed a 3% threshold last fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to shutter the city’s in-person school system for two weeks in November and all students went to full remote learning.

In December, de Blasio then reopened schools for the youngest students and students with disabilities for in-person learning, while middle school and high school students stayed on full-time remote learning.

High schoolers remain on full-time remote learning with no date yet announced for returning to in-person learning.

Striking an upbeat note at his press briefing Wednesday, de Blasio hailed New York City's school system as a national model and hinted at a possible return to school “relatively soon” for high schoolers as well.

“This is really an important moment, bringing back our middle school kids -- get them in the classroom, giving them an opportunity to learn from talented, committed, passionate educators,” de Blasio said.

The city Department of Education estimates 62,000 students in the 6th to 8th grades will return to in-person learning at the city’s 471 middle schools this week. That's roughly 30% of the 200,000 total number of students enrolled in public middle schools.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has said he expects half of the middle schools in the system to be able to teach students in-person five days a week. Those that don't have the capacity will offer the original plan of a hybrid mix of in-person instruction and fully remote days.

One eighth-grade social studies teacher at The Highbridge Green School in the Bronx said she's excited to return to school.

"For so many of the kids it’s going to be a game changer," said Carlee Moses. "And with some of the hard to reach students it makes them much easier to reach when they’re right there."

De Blasio promised the city’s Situation Room, which handles COVID-19 testing and outbreaks, has expanded staffing to account for the middle schools, and eventually the high schools.

“We know that we have the testing capacity for middle school. Starting tomorrow, every school will be tested weekly, and we will have the same for high school,” de Blasio said. “That capacity has been built and will be ready for when we reopen high school.”

De Blasio added that the city has now conducted almost 500,000 coronavirus tests on in-person students and school staff since the beginning of the school year.

Every school is required to conduct random weekly testing of 20% of in-person students and staff, and students who don’t submit a consent form for testing will ultimately be switched back to full-time remote learning.

As of February 24th, the citywide seven-day average COVID-19 positivity rate was 7.15%. The city says the positive testing rate in schools has consistently been much lower than the citywide rate, and was last reported at 0.58% on February 13th, before schools went on midwinter break.

Jeff Thamkittikasem, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said the testing expansion is possible because the city’s own dedicated labs are now processing results within a day and a half.

“We've not only had the ability to create our own lab here in New York, they can process tens of thousands of tests, but also we have great partners with other labs,” Thamkittikasem said at the press briefing. “So we've been able to expand the number of teams that can go to every location...Similarly, we've already increased the number of staff in our Situation Room to account for the expansion of our testing.”

The DOE’s policy of temporarily closing classrooms and school buildings while two or more unrelated cases are investigated is also being re-examined, de Blasio said, acknowledging that parents have complained the protocol is too rigid and based on outdated information as schools repeatedly open and close.

“It is being revisited for sure. We have an ever-changing situation,” de Blasio said. “So clearly our schools have been safe. And I think the abundance of caution was a correct approach in the beginning. But now, our kids need to be in school.”

More than 30,000 teachers and other educational staffers like principals and guidance counselors have gotten at least one dose of the two-shot vaccines, according to de Blasio and Department of Education officials. Teachers are part of the priority groups for vaccinations in New York City, and the United Federation of Teachers union is coordinating on securing appointments for their members.

Moses said she received her two vaccine shots and she feels "pretty good, as good as I can be," about the expanded school testing.

"That is obviously a major safeguard," Moses said of the vaccination. "And just with the way we’ve operated with the social distancing and mask wearing and the cleaning protocols in school, we feel really safe."

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said there are still many members who haven't been vaccinated: "Even putting the most positive spin on the city's numbers, there are tens of thousands of staff who have not yet had access to the vaccine," he said in a statement Wednesday.

And for the last group still left out of in-person learning, there is some hope of reopening high school this academic year with a promise of updates coming in the “next few weeks,” de Blasio said.

“I am very hopeful given everything we're seeing, that we can get high school back and get it back relatively soon,” de Blasio said. "It's something I absolutely want to do in this school year.”