Opt-in period for in-person learning could lead to ‘virtual study hall’ due to teacher shortage: NYC councilman

Reopening Schools

NEW YORK — The new opt-in period for in-person learning in New York City public schools could create virtual study halls instead of real-life teacher instruction for students, City Councilman Mark Treyger warned on Monday.

The councilman, who chairs the Education Committee, blasted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “surprise announcement” on Friday that parents would have an opportunity to opt their children out of full-remote learning and back into classrooms this academic year, saying there was no consultation with principals beforehand.

“Many schools still cannot provide five-days-a-week, in-person services because we still have a severe staff shortage because thousands of staff are still out on medical accommodations; still cannot get a vaccine appointment; folks who are quarantining for 10-14 days. So I’m hearing a lot of concerns from school principals,” Treyger said on the PIX11 Morning News on Monday.

The councilman also noted that although new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines allow for students to be 3 feet apart in classrooms, students have to be 6 feet apart during lunchtime.

“As a reminder to the mayor: Students are eating lunch now in their classrooms because they’re told they cannot congregate in the cafeterias,” Treyger said.

The councilman urged de Blasio to consider the staffing needs of each school rather than taking a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach, saying there are logistical questions in each building that need to be answered first.

“What’s going to end up happening is, he’s going to allow folks opt-in, students are going to expect there’s going to be in-person instruction and we’re going to have a virtual study hall,” Treyger said. “Kids will come into a class expecting a teacher to teach them, the teacher will be working from home on a Zoom, and that’s not in-person class. That’s just basically a virtual study hall class.”

De Blasio said last week the opt-in period for parents would happen in phases starting this week with 3-K, pre-K, elementary and District 75 schools. The mayor and Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter said they were confident they could bring back a substantial number of younger students by April.

Middle and high school students will also be included in the opt-in period, so the city can have an idea on the number of older students who want to return to in-person learning, the mayor had said.

Monday also marked the reopening of New York City high schools for the first time since November. About 55,000 students in grades 9-12 who are currently opted into the city’s in-person learning program resumed in-person learning.

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