NYC Public Schools Reopen in Fall

Taking into consideration the DOE’s announcement of the full reopening of all NYC public schools for the 2021-2022 school year, students and teachers share their thoughts.

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In light of the steady decline of COVID-19 positivity rates in New York and vaccination efforts, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) announced that all public NYC schools will be fully reopening in September with in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year. Masks, on-site COVID-19 tests, and daily health screenings will be required in schools. As of now, COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandated for students and teachers in the fall.

Prior to the upcoming school year, Stuyvesant will be open for in-person learning this summer for NYC’s new Summer Rising program, which offers academic enhancement and enrichment programs to all NYC public school students for free. Stuyvesant’s Summer Discovery Program will also continue as a hybrid of remote and in-person learning while Stuyvesant’s Summer Health Accelerated class will be fully remote.

It is unclear if summer reopening plans will affect reopening in the fall. “For the summer, social distance is reduced from six to three feet. Whether that has [a] bearing on reopening in the fall, we don’t know,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said in an e-mail interview.

During the 2020-2021 school year, teachers and staff members with extenuating COVID-19 related circumstances were granted accommodations to work remotely. However, all individuals are expected to return in-person in the fall. “My understanding [is] that there will not be COVID-related accommodations. If there were other reasons beyond the regular accommodations that have always been around, then those will not be granted or will not even be available,” Principal Seung Yu said. Medical accommodations that existed pre-COVID, such as limited mobility, will be available.

Stuyvesant has decided to revert to the 10-period schedule rather than maintain the alternating five-period blocks established this year. “There are still some unknowns about space, and the 10-period [schedule] offers us the most flexibility for space and safety. We also have to examine all the programming implications if we were to make a change with the programming,” Yu said. “I do not think it [...] will be prudent to make changes to the 10-period until we’ve had more time to examine it.”

The decision to return to the 10-period schedule has received mixed feedback from students, some of whom feel worried about the sudden transition. “I’m kind of scared that the workload will be double the amount we have right now, and that’s not great,” freshman Erica Chen, who has yet to experience a 10-period day at Stuyvesant, said.

Others are more supportive of the 10-period schedule as it offers shorter class periods per day but more class time per school year. “For me, it was very difficult to have a large chunk of information learned at once and then [...] a break from that information for a whole day,” freshman Amanda Cisse said. “The information would kind of decay, and I’m the kind of person who needs to review on a daily basis, so [the 10-period schedule] is definitely an upside for me.”

In addition to scheduling, Yu expects PSAL sports to continue in person, provided that everyone follows COVID safety guidelines. “Our understanding [is] that PSAL will have all the seasons as expected. I’m sure that they will be following certain guidelines as dictated by the state and implemented by the city,” he said.

Similarly, extracurriculars and shows like SING! are expected to resume in-person with alignment to standard guidelines. “We are anticipating having extracurricular activities similar [to what] we’ve done pre-COVID,” Yu said. “The one thing that we’ll have to take into account is adult supervision to make sure all processes and protocols are being followed.”

This school year’s absence of in-person interaction with peers and teachers has several students eager to return to school. “I made a lot of friends this year, but I haven’t seen them in [person] at all, so I’m very excited to meet my new friends,” sophomore Lauren Lee said.

Incoming freshmen are also looking forward to in-person learning, believing that in-person interaction is fundamental for a quality learning experience. “Either blended or fully remote options left students with a lot [fewer] opportunities for a full education,” incoming freshman Sasha Murokh said. “It took away a lot of opportunities for group projects and hands-on learning experiences, so I feel like in-person learning would kinda be like society branching back into what it was previously before COVID.”

Despite the anticipation, others, having gotten used to the routine of online learning, have expressed concerns over transitioning into an in-person learning environment. This sentiment holds especially true for the Class of 2024, who have yet to experience in-person learning at Stuyvesant so far. “[Returning to in-person learning] might come off as somewhat of a culture shock,” freshman Anson Lau said. “It will definitely be a very difficult transition for people that got a bit too used to the laxer schedules of online schooling.”

Another particular concern involves public transportation, especially for those who live in the outer boroughs and have lengthy commutes to Stuyvesant. “A disadvantage [of in-person school] would be the commute time because for me I think it takes about an hour and a half and I need to account for two hours in case of traffic and stuff since I’m taking public transportation,” Chen said.

In light of COVID and/or the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, others are uneasy about the risks of taking public transportation in the first place and being in large gathering spaces. “I’ve heard crime rates are going up in public transportation and I’m sure other Asian students [and I are] all worried about [anti]-Asian hate crimes,” Lee said. “Even now, I try to avoid public transportation.”

Some students question whether in-person school will be safe since students and teachers are not required to be vaccinated. “You can’t exactly mandate everyone to get the vaccine, and [there needs to be] parental consensus as well,” freshman Unique Zhang said. “Though a lot of us are gonna get vaccinated, I don’t think that really guarantees a lot of our safety because we can still carry it.”

Students have also shown concerns about the effectiveness of social distancing. “Since Stuyvesant has over 3000 kids [...] how are they gonna separate [people] with social distancing and crowded hallways?” incoming freshman Reem Khalifa said. “Schools should implement a safer way to get to classes and not give some short amount of time to get to your class, especially to ensure social distancing.”

Assistant Principal of Security/Health and P.E. Brian Moran also voices apprehension about the inconsistent COVID guidelines. “My biggest concern during the transition is the changing [Center for Disease Control] (CDC) and DOE guidelines for health and safety. The unknowns make planning more difficult,” Moran said in an e-mail interview. In March, the CDC relaxed social distancing rules in school from six feet apart to three feet apart. It is unknown whether this guideline will change in the near future and how it will affect Stuyvesant.

Still, the administration is continuing to make plans to ensure that everyone, especially students new to the building, can transition smoothly in the fall. “We have been in many discussions on how we can prepare students, as well as support their transition,” Ingram said. “Seeing their excited, apprehensive, and smiling faces coming over the bridge will be not only easy but something I am looking forward to. It grounds you to see Stuy through their eyes.”

One plan they hope to implement is to inform students of useful resources in Stuyvesant. “An example would be using Phys. Ed. class time to help students ‘learn the people in your neighborhood,’” Moran said. “Incoming students can learn where to go for guidance, the nurse, where the library, how to navigate the building and escalators, and traveling [safely] to and from school.”

Regardless of the unknowns, Stuyvesant hopes that it can welcome back all staff and students into the building safely and with ease. “I am confident that Stuy students and staff will rise to the occasion as they always do and help to make for a smooth transition back to in-person learning,” Moran said.