- New York City Public Schools plan to reopen middle schools on February 25.
- Most classrooms in the nation’s largest public school system have been shuttered since November.
- Chicago Public Schools are also nearing a return to classrooms after months-long disputes.
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Two of the largest school systems in the US are planning to open schools for in-person learning this month.
New York City Public Schools will reopen middle schools to some students for in-person learning by the end of February, while public schools in Chicago are nearing a deal with teachers that would see them return to the classroom as early as this week.
The New York City Department of Education on Monday announced the return to the classroom for students, scheduled to begin February 25. The return will allow about 60,000 middle school students who had last year opted for the city’s in-person learning option the opportunity to return to classrooms for instruction.
There is no current plan to reopen high school classrooms,The New York Times reported.
In November, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shuttered schools across the city following a spike in the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate, though in December the city partially reversed course and reopened classrooms to younger students and to some students with disabilities.
Schools in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest public school system by enrollment, according to US Census data, are also inching closer to reopening to students for in-person learning after a months-long debate between school officials and the Chicago Teachers Union.
According to a report Monday from the Chicago Sun-Times, the tentative plan would have some students returning to classrooms this week while also affording teachers the opportunity to be “fully vaccinated” before returning to their classrooms.
In-person learning for Chicago’s pre-kindergarten and special education students would resume on Thursday, according to the report, and elementary and middle school students would follow in the weeks to come.
The plan would offer COVID-19 testing to all staff before returning to schools and would make tests available to students aged 10 or older, according to the report.
The Chicago plan also calls for schools to re-close for a two-week period should the citywide positivity rate increase for seven consecutive days, jump at least 15% each day compared to the previous week, and rise to 10% or higher on the seventh day, according to the Sun-Times.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a press conference Sunday expressed optimism that the union would vote to approve the proposal to avoid another teachers’ strike. Chicago teachers went on strike in October after failing to reach an agreement with school officials following months of negotiations.
The CDC is expected to release recommendations on reopen schools safely
Since last year, the question of how to safely open schools has sparked fierce debate between school leaders, teachers, politicians, and public health experts.
While many school systems across the US closed entirely in March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic, some have since returned to classrooms, while others have kept students entirely online. Some systems have opted for a hybrid proposal that allows some students and staff in the building while others participate from home.
President Joe Biden in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS called school closures a “national emergency,” calling for the cautious reopening of classrooms to students.
“I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely,” Biden said. “Safely. You have to have fewer people in the classroom. You have to have ventilation systems that have been reworked.”
Biden said he expected CDC Commissioner Rochelle Walensky would unveil “science-based” recommendations for school reopenings as soon as Wednesday.
In January, the president signed an executive order directing the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to create guidelines to reopen schools safely within his first 100 days in office.
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