NYC delays start of school year to allow more prep time

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By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City is delaying the start of its school year by several days to give teachers more time to prepare to have students back in classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

In a deal struck with unions representing teachers, staff and administrators, instruction that was supposed to begin on Sept. 10 will be delayed until Sept. 16. All students will spend the first few days learning from home, by computer, before in-person instruction begins for some students on Sept. 21.

The development comes after de Blasio, a Democrat, emphasized for months that the city’s 1.1 million public school students need schools to resume in-person instruction this fall after the coronavirus abruptly forced a thorny plunge into remote learning in March.

Even as other big U.S. school systems — including Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston — decided to start the school year with students learning remotely, de Blasio stuck with a plan for a Sept. 10 hybrid reopening that was intended to feature as much classroom time as possible while still allowing for social distancing.

De Blasio was joined at a news conference Tuesday by union leaders who said they do believe the city can welcome students back safely, they just need more time to get ready for their arrival.

New York suffered the deadliest coronavirus spike in the country before getting the virus’ spread in check in late spring, even as it climbed anew in many other parts of the country.

The city’s plan to restart schools includes mask-wearing, staggered schedules to reduce the number of students in rooms, supplying every school building with a nurse and asking all staffers to get tested shortly before school starts. The city dispatched ventilation experts to check out air flow in classrooms, and officials said they would work to make parks and streets available as teaching space if principals were interested.

Tuesday's deal to delay the start of class was announced ahead of a planned afternoon meeting by delegates of the United Federation of Teachers, which was poised to vote on whether to authorize a strike.

New York state bars teachers and other public employees from striking; unions can be fined if they do.

New York City students had their last day of in-class instruction March 13. All schools statewide were closed by March 18.

During the summer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would allow a return to in-person school in regions where fewer than 5% of people tested for COVID-19 came back positive.

The entire state has been well under that threshold all summer.

The Democratic governor this month cleared schools to open around the state, while cautioning that they still needed to address parents’ and teachers’ safety concerns.