De Blasio (D) had pledged to provide parents the option to send their children back to school for at least part of the week, allowing for social distancing, and provide virtual instruction the rest of the time. School buildings were set to reopen Monday.
But he faced significant pushback from many teachers and parents, who expressed concern about whether schools could adequately prevent a coronavirus outbreak, with many buildings having poor ventilation systems. There were also concerns about whether schools had enough personal protective equipment, such as masks.
“This is a huge undertaking,” de Blasio said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s difficult. It’s challenging.”
New York City is being closely watched as it looks to reopen its schools. The city was traumatized with one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, and many students return to classes having lost relatives or with memories of unending emergency sirens.
Elsewhere, some school reopenings have been marred by infections emerging among students and staffers. Many states have reopened schools despite high infection rates, in some cases because they were required by state leaders. President Trump and his allies have pushed for schools to reopen.
Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) forced most schools to reopen, saw 10,000 new pediatric infections the first two weeks of school, the Florida Department of Health reported.
Thursday’s announcement by de Blasio adds another layer of a chaos to a process that has already been fraught with tension and anxiety. Last month, New York City teachers laid out health and safety demands and threatened to strike if they were not met. They eventually struck a deal with the city for monthly randomized testing of students and staffers to keep the pandemic in check within schools. The city also pushed the start date — originally set for Sept. 10 — back to Monday.
But there were signs that the plan — which allows parents to choose remote learning or a blend of in-person and virtual classes, and allows teachers with medical waivers to work from home — was fraying.
About 42 percent of students opted for the fully remote option. Those who wanted to return to buildings would do so only part time and in cohorts to allow for social distancing, and would get virtual instruction on other days.
Some schools had so many teachers qualify for medical waivers to teach from home that they did not have enough for in-person instruction. So they planned to have students in front of laptops, learning virtually from a teacher giving lessons from home. It also meant that not all students would get live instruction.
This week, de Blasio announced that 55 teachers had tested positive for the coronavirus, just as some were starting to arrive back at buildings to set up their classrooms.
De Blasio said staffing issues were a major factor in his decision to delay the start. He plans to hire 4,500 additional teachers.
“We’re giving schools more staff, more time and more support, and this helps us give us the strongest possible start to the most unconventional school year any of us have ever experienced,” Chancellor Richard A. Carranza said.
Now, only preschoolers and special-education students will start in-person instruction Monday. On Sept. 29, elementary schools (both K-5 and K-8) will begin in-person classes, while the rest will go back Oct. 1, de Blasio said.
New York City, home to the nation’s largest school system, is one of the only urban districts to reopen school buildings for face-to-face instruction. School leaders argued it was critical for children, many of whom rely on schools for meals and for a safe place to stay during the day.
Once the nation’s epicenter of the pandemic, New York City has seen positivity rates fall below 1 percent. By contrast, the nation’s positivity rate stands at more than 5 percent.
An earlier version of this report misstated de Blasio’s reopening plan. The mayor had planned to allow only some students to return Monday.