In-person classes start for thousands of elementary school students

Ahmed Elgohary and his daughter, Logee, walk to school on Wednesday, Sept. 30.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Thousands of children finally returned to New York City public schools for in-person classes on Tuesday after education officials pushed back the start of the school year twice this fall. 

Elementary and middle school students taking part in the city’s hybrid learning model, where students take classes in schools and remotely, returned to school buildings on Sept. 29 with spaced-out desks and mandatory masks — more than six months after schools were shut down at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly 500,000 students will return to class this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.

School was scheduled to begin in-person on Sept. 10, but Hizzoner called off the plan after parents, teachers, and school staffers raised concerns about safety issues.

Roughly 90,000 preschool and elementary school students, as well as students with special needs, returned to classrooms on Monday, Sept. 21, and students in middle and high school will return to school buildings on Thursday, Oct. 1. 

A student makes her way to P.S. 971 in Bay Ridge on Wednesday.Photo by Caroline Ourso

New York City houses the largest school system in the nation with roughly 1,600 public schools serving 1.1 million students — complicating the schools’ in-person reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dozens of school buildings have already closed temporarily because of COVID-19 cases among staffers, and many families have opted in for an all-remote learning model, officials say. According to the Department of Education, 48-percent of the city’s public school students will take only online classes as of Sept. 28. 

But for some parents, the benefits of in-person learning outweigh some of the risks. One parent, Jordan Feigenbaum, said he sent his five-year-old son back to P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights so he could socialize after being cooped up his parents for months.

A child and parent ride a bike past P.S. 130 in Brooklyn on Tuesday.REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Feigenbaum admits that he was nervous sending his son back into school, especially with the recent uptick in coronavirus cases in pockets of Brooklyn. On Monday, the Department of Health reported that the virus was increasing at an “alarming” rate in some Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods, and de Blasio announced on Tuesday that the positivity rate citywide broke 3 percent as a result of the outbreaks. 

But Feigenbaum was surprised by how smoothly the transition has been for his son.

“Most people didn’t have a lot of faith in the mayor or in the chancellor, that they were never going to get this right, there were too many details or lack of details,” Feigenbaum said.