students welcome home

A REMOTE CHANCE: Mayor Adams and Chancellor David Banks announced Jan. 13 that they were working with the United Federation of Teachers to create a remote-learning option in light of a high absence rate among students since the end of winter break, with more than 200,000 students staying home because of the recent surge in coronavirus cases. The union has been calling for a remote option since the start of the school year.

After initially refusing to consider a remote-learning option despite an increase in coronavirus cases in city public schools and high absence rates, Mayor Adams backtracked Jan. 13, saying that he and the United Federation of Teachers officials would try to negotiate a temporary remote plan.

Although he continued to insist that schools were the safest place for the city’s nearly 1 million public-school students, “We do have to be honest that we have a substantial number of students, for whatever reason, parents are not bringing them to school,” he said during a press briefing. “I have to make sure children are educated. We’ve lost two years of education.”

More Than 200,000 Out

On Jan. 12, student attendance was 76 percent, the highest since the winter break ended Jan. 3. More than 200,000 students were absent. At Bronx Haven High School, just one-third of students came to school; at Harlem Renaissance High School, student attendance was less than 25 percent.

Mr. Adams said that he planned to meet with the UFT “to see if there is a way to do a temporary remote option.”

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Ahead of the Mayor’s announcement, union President Michael Mulgrew discussed the need for a remote-option on Fox's "Good Day New York."

“We've called for a remote learning program since September,” he said. “I think Mayor Adams is really thinking it through, because it is just the fact there's over 200,000 children who haven't been in school for over two weeks. We need to set something up, because we hope this is the last wave, but we do not know if it is. So, I think it's time for the city really to think about it and contemplate it.”

'Use It Judiciously'

But the union leader cautioned that even if a remote option was enacted, it would likely not be on the same scale as the remote program that operated during the 2020-2021 school year.

“We don’t want to go back to 65 percent of the children staying home,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “So, for parents, I'm going to ask again, please, if we have this option, use it judiciously.”

School employees, including members of the dissident UFT caucus Movement of Rank-And-File Educators, rallied for a remote-option earlier in the week. As of Jan. 12, there were 6,512 students and 1,002 staff members who tested positive for the virus.

The Mayor’s reconsideration of online instruction came just a day after he told lawmakers that it would likely take six months before a remote option would be possible, according to State Sen. Jabari Brisport.

'Think We Can Do It'

During a Parent Advisory Council, Schools Chancellor David Banks told parent leaders “If I could figure out a way to do a remote option starting tomorrow, I would. It’s not quite as simple as that because you have to negotiate this stuff with the unions,” he said. “I do think we can come up with something because there’s enough political pressure that has been put on.”

In response, Mr. Mulgrew said that “the Chancellor has been misinformed about the UFT’s position. We have long called for an instructionally sound remote option.”

Mr. Adams is also considering shaking up the consent process to test students for coronavirus. Currently, students must submit a parental consent form granting them permission to be tested--but only about a third of students have submitted these forms. 

The Mayor hopes to increase the pool of students who can be tested by requiring them to formally opt-out of testing.

Mr. Mulgrew urged parents to submit testing consent forms and get their children vaccinated. 

“These are two of the things the school system needs right now for keeping your child and all of the children safe," he said.

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