Mark Lennihan / AP
NEW YORK – School began Monday for around one million New York City public school students as part of the nation’s largest in-person learning experience during the coronavirus pandemic.
The first day of school coincided with several milestones in the city’s pandemic recovery that depend on immunization mandates.
Almost all of the city’s 300,000 employees had to return to their workplaces, in person, on Monday as the city ended remote work. Most will either need to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 tests to stay in their jobs.
The city was also to start enforcing rules requiring workers and customers to be vaccinated to enter restaurants, museums, gyms and places of entertainment. The vaccination requirement has been in place for weeks, but had not been implemented before.
There will also be a vaccine mandate – with no testing option – for teachers, although they have until September 27 to receive their first vaccine.
There is no distance option for New York public school students
Unlike some school districts across the country which still offer online education to families who prefer it, New York City officials have not provided any remote options despite the persistence of the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID- 19.
New York City has kept schools open for most of the past school year, with some students doing a mix of distance and in-person education, but the majority of families have chosen distance learning. This choice will not be available this year, insisted Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“There are kids who haven’t been in a classroom for a year and a half, and they deserve better,” de Blasio said Monday. “Children need to go back to school for their mental health, their physical health, their ability to develop socially, and for so many reasons.”
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited an elementary school in the Bronx and appeared remotely during the mayor’s briefing to praise the plan to open schools in the city. “They did it well, and I know it’s going to be a great year for New York, for everyone,” Cardona said.
Masks are mandatory, as are vaccinations for some sports
Masks will be mandatory for all students and staff, as is the case with schools in New York State.
Samiya Ramdial’s mask was firmly in place for the start of freshman year at 33 Public School in Manhattan – as were her chic black sneakers.
“These are great shoes,” Samiya said. “I can dance in these.”
As part of the city’s blended learning model, Samiya was in kindergarten part-time in person last year and learned remotely the rest of the time.
“She preferred in person of course, because she got to see her friends, and she also enjoys being with the teachers,” said her mother, Christina Brea.
Mark Lennihan / AP
There is no vaccination mandate for students aged 12 and over eligible for vaccines, but vaccinations will be required to participate in contact sports like football and basketball as well as some extracurricular activities like orchestral practice and theater. About two-thirds of the city’s 12 to 17-year-olds are currently vaccinated.
In the United States, anyone 12 years of age and older is eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration chief of vaccines said last week that he hoped children as young as 5 would be eligible for vaccinations by the end of 2021.
Teachers and parents push back
De Blasio, a Democrat in his final months in office, insisted that masks, cleaning protocols and random COVID-19 tests make school buildings safe. But it has been rejected both by parents who want their children to come home and by unions representing teachers and other school staff.
The city has been in arbitration with the United Teachers’ Federation, which represents nearly 80,000 teachers in the city’s public schools, over issues such as accommodation for teachers who say they have health issues that prevent them from attending. get vaccinated.
The arbitrator ruled Friday night that the city must offer out-of-class homework for teachers who are not vaccinated due to medical and religious exemptions.
Mark Lennihan / AP
As part of the school system’s coronavirus protocols, if there is a positive case in an elementary school class, students in the class will receive distance education while being quarantined for 10 days. In middle and high schools, only unvaccinated students will be quarantined.
De Blasio said he didn’t expect many classrooms to close.
“We don’t expect to see the kind of closures or disruptions in classrooms that we saw last year,” he said on Monday.
City and workers clash over full-time return to the office
Meanwhile, other municipal workers’ unions have opposed the mayor’s decision to order employees to return to their workplaces, saying if they do their work remotely well, they should be allowed to continue. .
“The way this full-time return to power was put in place with less than two weeks’ notice was the part that was so disorienting,” said Ashley Firestone, who works for the cultural affairs department of the city.
“There are so many aspects of this that have not been considered and reflected in a human or empathetic way to the humanity of the workers who have been putting themselves in danger for 18 months on behalf of the city,” she said. added.
Some city employees like Yvette Santiago had returned to work on a limited basis. But the mandatory full-time return will require some adjustments.
“The return to work has been a bit anxious,” said Santiago, director of the Aging Department. “I’m just trying to adjust.”
The municipal labor committee, a union coordinating group representing municipal workers, has also threatened legal action if the mayor decides to eliminate the option of weekly virus testing for workers who choose not to be tested. vaccinate.
Around the city, the application of vaccination mandates has started
The outbreak had disrupted much of public life, including the closure of restaurants and other places of gathering. City officials have pushed for vaccinations to prevent the spread of the virus, especially more highly transmissible variants that could trigger another round of massive closures.
On Monday, the city began implementing its vaccination mandate in indoor restaurants, museums, gymnasiums and places of entertainment.
At the Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhattan, queues formed at the door as patrons browsed phone apps or rummaged through their wallets for proof of vaccination.
And a group of restaurant and bar owners sued the vaccination requirement for indoor meals and employees, claiming the city had exceeded its legal authority.
Allison Torres, a waitress at Court Square Diner in Queens, had turned down nearly a dozen customers by mid-morning, including a regular.
“I’m sorry, it is today that they are becoming strict,” she explained to a couple of young men before refusing them because they did not have proof that they had been vaccinated.
“We’re definitely going to lose customers,” Torres said. “I’m going to lose money and my boss is going to lose money.”
Torres said the restaurant will follow the rules “because they’re the rules – but we don’t have to like it.”