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N.Y.C. Schools Reopen With Focus on Recovery From Pandemic Losses

New York City’s public school students return to class on Thursday, and with pandemic restrictions loosened, the nation’s largest school system …

N.Y.C. Schools Reopen With Focus on Recovery From Pandemic Losses
08.09.2022 19:40
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New York City’s public school students return to class on Thursday, and with pandemic restrictions loosened, the nation’s largest school system is resuming the long process of recouping learning losses and returning to normal.

It is crucial for the Department of Education to have a relatively smooth school year: Families have left the system in droves during the past five years, an exodus that accelerated during the pandemic.

At the same time, parents and educators are fighting Mayor Eric Adams over budget cuts they say will hurt schools’ efforts to help students recover after the pandemic.

Efforts to desegregate city schools continue to cause a stir, especially as the city has attempted to expand the gifted and talented program instead of ending it, and a new lottery system for high schools has meant that many incoming high school students didn’t get their first or even their 12th choice.

And the Adams administration has been shaking up the Education Department bureaucracy, including putting some of its school districts under the charge of new superintendents.

“There’s this sense of hope that we’re getting back to whatever the new normal is going to look like,” said Mark Cannizzaro, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the principals’ union. “On the other end, we have lost a significant number of students. We need to make up for that as quickly and as best as possible.”

He added: “We need to show them: We’re back.”

The academic year will begin as some families, school staff and health experts remain concerned about Covid-19 and the spread of other viruses, such as polio and monkeypox.

The Department of Education announced in August that it would end many pandemic restrictions for the 2022-23 school year. Masks are strongly recommended but not required, except for students who are returning to school after testing positive for Covid. Families no longer have to fill out a daily health screening form, and schools will no longer offer PCR testing.

While the mayor said last spring that he was considering mandating Covid vaccinations for schoolchildren, the city has not taken that step, except for students participating in certain extracurricular activities.

After a wave earlier in the summer, new coronavirus cases in New York City dropped throughout August, according to The New York Times’s data dashboard. Polio risk is low for most students in New York City, because vaccination against polio is required to attend schools in New York State.

And, while a handful of children across the nation have been diagnosed with monkeypox, the illness has primarily spread among adults. Attending school is unlikely to put students at risk of a monkeypox exposure.

The main focus this school year will be on learning, said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. “The last couple of years were about keeping our school system open and safe,” he said. “Now, it’s really about where we want to take our school system educationally, and what are the things we want to really fight for.”

For many families and educators, one of those top concerns has been whether schools will be equipped to address learning loss and student well-being after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted three school years.

Data on how New York City students are faring academically has been scarce. The state has not yet released the last school year’s test results, and the city has not made public data on how students performed on tests it administered during the school year.

But a survey of more than 100 New York City teachers found that the vast majority believe students are behind academically compared with how they fared before the pandemic. And national test results released Sept. 1 found that 9-year-olds fell far behind students who took the test in years past.

“What I’ve seen is astonishing,” said Aaron Worley, a social worker at P.S. 243 and P.S. 262 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “Kids in fifth grade that are struggling with their reading, their writing, their sentence comprehension — it’s alarming.”

Teachers and families have argued that schools need more resources to help students regain lost ground. But, while millions of federal pandemic relief dollars have flowed to the city, the money will run out in fiscal year 2025 — the reason the Adams administration says it sliced the school budget by more than $200 million this year.

Principals say the cuts are forcing them to slash teaching positions and enrichment programs they need to help students recover during a school year that was supposed to finally be normal after years of pandemic disruption.

The administration said it proposed the cuts because of declining enrollment. Around 120,000 families have left the school system over the past five years. The decline in students at traditional public schools has stood in contrast to the enrollment increases of about 7 percent in the last two school years at the city’s charter schools, about 60 percent of which began their first day of classes last month.

The fight over the budget is likely to continue into the school year. After approving the overall city budget in June, the City Council passed a largely symbolic resolution this week calling for the mayor to restore millions of dollars in education funding. Arguments in a case challenging the school budget process are scheduled for Sept. 29.

The cuts come as the school system is welcoming hundreds of migrant families. The schools chancellor, David C. Banks, announced an initiative to support migrant children in August; it will include school enrollment assistance as well as language and social and emotional support.

Chancellor Banks said he was working to ensure a “smooth transition for these new students with minimal disruption.”

He said the department would make an appeal to the federal government for assistance and would try to place the students in schools that are already under-enrolled.

At Martin Van Buren High School in Queens on Wednesday, Chancellor Banks said during a news conference that he was hopeful for “what this school year is going to represent.”

Still, with some parents worried about their children’s safety, he announced that 200 new school safety agents — uniformed officers who do not carry guns — would start in schools Thursday. About 650 more will be added throughout the year.

Officials are also still exploring options for locking school doors after children arrive for the day, Chancellor Banks said.

“My back-to-school message for students and families is that we take your physical and emotional safety seriously,” he said.

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