NYC’s new school year begins with hope, fear and uncertainty
NEW YORK — New York City’s first school year of full-time in-person learning in the COVID-19 era kicks off Monday — and it’s fraught with more unanswered questions than any other in recent memory.
First and foremost on the minds of many anxious parents is whether city schools will continue to show the same low rates of virus transmission as last year, even as the number of kids expected in school buildings multiplies and the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.
Adding to the confidence of some health and city officials is the ongoing vaccination drive, including a looming mandate for Education Department staff and a 65% vaccination rate for eligible city teens.
But many concerned teachers and parents say the city diluted a crucial protective tool by diminishing the amount of random COVID-19 testing in schools.
Even if transmission rates remain relatively low, cases originating outside school that make their way into classrooms could trigger rolling classroom quarantines for kids exposed to infected classmates.
For unvaccinated older students who will be required to isolate at home after school exposures, the amount and quality of instruction they receive during quarantine remains a source of major uncertainty.
Staffing levels across multiple aspects of schooling — from school-bus drivers to teachers to mental health professionals — could ease the transition or create last-minute personnel crunches.
And the number of students who will show back up to classrooms — both during the early stages of the school year, when COVID fears are most pronounced, and in the ensuing months — remains an open question.
That’s to say nothing of what happens once they settle in city classrooms. Educators will be closely monitoring how the pandemic affects their students academically, socially and emotionally — and scrambling to adapt to their needs.
But amid the unending uncertainty and pervasive fear, parents, educators and kids are eager to see the city’s sprawling, messy and complex school system lurch back to life — and deliver the hope and promise that come with a new year.