New York City high school students who chose in-person learning in the beginning of the school year will return to their classrooms on March 22, more than five months after officials temporarily switched all students to remote learning when COVID-19 cases rose.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that the city's Department of Education has undertaken several recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including testing, mask mandates and social distancing, to ensure that students and staff will be safe for the remainder of the school year.
In addition, de Blasio said high school sports will resume with strict safety protocols and small crowds.
"We are ready to go. We have all the pieces we need to bring high school back and bring it back strong. And, of course, to bring it back safely," the mayor said during his daily news briefing.
Roughly 55,000 public high school students, about 20% of the total high school student body, chose to have their classes in-person when they were asked at the beginning of the year, according to the city's Department of Education.
The mayor and the education department shut down all school buildings for in person learning on Nov. 19 as coronavirus cases rose during the fall.
Students in 3K to fifth grade were allowed to return to in-person in December, while middle school students went back to in-person learning in February.
Incoming NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter told reporters the department has closely monitored COVID-19 cases since the phased-in re-opening, and said as of Monday, there was a 0.57% positivity rate in schools.
"We are going to continue with what we know works, weekly in-person testing for our students, educators and staff, and now our student athletes as well, a 30-day supply of PPE, nightly deep cleanings, mandated social distancing and mask-wearing," she said.
De Blasio said the city will emphasize outdoor sports where it can and warned parents to avoid larger gatherings at the games.
"We have to protect everyone," he said. "And then as things get healthier and healthier in this city, we'll be able to open it up even more."
The mayor added that the city plans extend the sports season into the summer, possibly as late as August.
When asked if parents will have an option of changing their students' learning preference to in-person classes, de Blasio said it was too early to offer that, citing new variants and other potential health risks.
He did say that the city's Department of Education is currently working on bringing all students back to in-person learning for the next school year.
"We are bringing our schools back fully in September, period. I want everyone to understand everything is working, all systems go, to bring our schools back 100% in September," he said.