New York Becomes First Big City in U.S. to Reopen All Its Schools

Students had their temperatures checked as they arrived for sixth grade in Queens on Thursday.
Students had their temperatures checked as they arrived for sixth grade in Queens on Thursday. Credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

New York City completed the reopening of all its public schools on Thursday morning, a significant milestone in its rehabilitation from the global epicenter of the pandemic, and a positive indication of the country’s unsteady attempt to return children to classrooms. Not long after sunrise, middle and high school principals welcomed students back to their buildings for the first time since March, accompanying elementary school children who had resumed earlier this week. About half a million students, from 3-year-olds in pre-K programs to high school seniors, will be back in school next week.

School re-opening is arguably the most crucial sign of the return of the city to a new normal: indoor dining resumed this week at reduced capacity, and museums begun to reopen. But Broadway is still closed, and major tourist areas are still largely abandoned. A recent state report cited projections that one-third to one-half of the city’s restaurants and bars could close due to a pandemic.

Like several other major city school officials, Cindy Marten, the San Diego superintendent, said she was watching New York primarily to see what it took not only to open schools, but to keep them open as students and staff members tested positive for the virus. No major issues have been reported in schools that have been open for several days, according to the teachers’ union and education officials. But in some schools, there have been scenes of chaos. One teacher confirmed that as of Thursday morning, no students had arrived. City officials said the John F. Kennedy Jr. Queens School was suspended for two weeks on Tuesday, after two people had tested positive.

There are still critical safety concerns. The city, which has lost more than 20,000 New Yorkers to the virus, saw its daily citywide rate of positive tests rise earlier this week to just over 3% before dropping again; Mr. de Blasio said he would require all students to take all classes remotely if the seven-day rolling average is 3%. Instead of attending virtual or in-person classes on Thursday, a few dozen students gathered at Washington Square Park in Manhattan to protest the re-opening proposal, arguing that schools should have more nurses, improved ventilation systems, and stronger remote learning plans.

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