New York City will no longer have a remote schooling option come fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday, in a major step toward fully reopening the nation’s largest school system.
This school year, most of the city’s roughly one million students — about 600,000 of them — stayed at home for classes. When the new school year starts on Sept. 13, all students and staff will be back in school buildings full-time, Mr. de Blasio said.
“This is going to be crucial for families,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “So many parents are relieved, I know.”
New York is one of the first big U.S. cities to remove the option of remote learning altogether for the coming school year. But widespread predictions that online classes would be a fixture for school districts may have been premature. Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey announced last week that the state would no longer have remote classes come fall, after similar announcements by leaders in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
New York City’s decision will make it much easier to restore its school system to a prepandemic state, since students and teachers will no longer be split between homes and school buildings.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, expressed support for the mayor’s announcement in a statement, saying the city’s teachers union wanted “as many students back in school as safely as possible.”
Still, he acknowledged that “a small number of students with extreme medical challenges” may face difficulty returning to in-person learning with the pandemic still a threat and said that a remote option could be necessary for those children.
Mr. de Blasio said that the school system would have “plenty of protections” in place when the school year begins. But his announcement will no doubt alarm some parents who remain concerned about sending their children back into school buildings, even as the pandemic ebbs in the United States.
Recent interviews with city parents have shown that while many families are looking forward to resuming normal schooling, some are hesitant about returning to classrooms.
Nonwhite families, whose health has suffered disproportionately from the virus, have been most likely to keep their children learning from home over the past year.
During the mayor’s news conference, the city’s schools chancellor, Meisha Porter, said there would be “no Covid-related accommodations,” signaling that teachers and school staff will no longer be granted medical waivers to work from home.
The city’s school system is currently planning for masks to be required in school buildings, Ms. Porter said. Schools would also follow the C.D.C.’s social-distancing protocol, which currently recommends elementary school students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms. Both those policies could change by the fall.
New York, like districts across the country, has struggled to make remote learning successful. Online classes have been frustrating for many students, and even disastrous for some, including children with disabilities.
By one estimate, three million students across the United States, roughly the school-age population of Florida, stopped going to classes, virtual or in person, after the pandemic began. A disproportionate number of those disengaged students are low-income Black, Latino and Native American children who have struggled to keep up in classrooms that are partly or fully remote.
Mr. de Blasio, who has been criticized for not doing more to improve the quality of online education, has said that remote learning is inherently inferior.
It has also been extraordinarily complex for the city to run two parallel school systems, one in person and one online, with many students switching between the two every few days. So many students and teachers operating from home made it nearly impossible for some schools to offer normal schedules.
For the past few months, Mr. de Blasio said he expected the city to keep some kind of remote learning option for the fall. But he and his aides changed their minds in recent weeks, officials said, as virus rates plummeted throughout the city and as children 12 and older became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech plan in September to submit requests for authorization of the vaccine in children ages 2 to 11.
“The data has been unbelievably clear,” Mr. de Blasio explained on Monday. “Vaccination has worked ahead of schedule; it’s had even more impact than we thought it would.”
Asked at a news conference on Monday if eliminating the remote schooling option was a good idea, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has clashed with Mr. de Blasio at times over plans for the city’s public schools, said that he believed all schools in the state would be on a trajectory to reopen in the fall, and that “some students paid a very heavy price for remote learning.”
He said officials were working on a policy that would help govern the decisions of school districts statewide.
“Remote learning only works if you’re in a home that has the equipment, if you’re in a home that has access to internet, if you’re in a home where someone can help the student with issues,” he said. “But remote learning with Covid discriminated. Poorer households, more minority households, were not as successful with remote learning.”