By Alex Zimmerman, Originally published by Chalkbeat New York
A little more than 30% of New York City students plan to go fully remote this fall, as an additional 41,000 families signed up over the past week, according to new figures released by the education department on Monday.
That number is likely to continue growing, since families can request online-only learning at any time, and some may continue to wait on the sidelines before making any decision about whether they plan to return to school buildings this fall. In all, roughly 304,000 students have so far committed to staying out of school buildings this fall.
The data suggest that families of color were more likely to be skeptical of returning to school buildings, echoing national trends.
About 47% of the city’s Asian students have already opted for fully-remote learning — by far the largest share of any racial group. About 27% of Black students have signed up for online-only learning this fall. So have 27% of Hispanic families, representing over 100,000 students. About 23% of white families have selected the virtual-only option.
The data also suggest that families living in New York City neighborhoods with more low-income students were less likely to choose fully-remote instruction, although the department did not release a citywide breakdown for low-income students, making broader conclusions more difficult.
An education department spokesperson did not immediately say what proportion of students with disabilities or English learners selected the remote-only option. The figures did not include about 120,000 students who attend charter schools, which have devised their own reopening strategies.
It’s unclear to what extent the latest figures offer the full picture of who will ultimately opt for online-only learning before school buildings are scheduled to reopen on Sept. 10.
Families can continue to select the remote-only option at any point, and the vast majority of families have not officially indicated a preference one way or the other. The education department did not require parents to inform the city of their preference if they wish to return to school buildings.
Parents may also be waiting for more information on what infection rate looks like right before schools reopen or have concerns about what teaching and learning will look like in various scenarios, including who will be teaching students opting for all remote learning — questions that have not been answered in detail. Schools are only starting this week to officially send their school communities what days children will attend in person. And Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he will not give a final green light to open school buildings until just days before they are scheduled to open.
The latest figures come amid a fierce debate about whether school buildings will be safe enough to reopen on time. Union leaders representing teachers and principals have raised alarms in recent days, arguing that schools will not be ready to reopen until the end of September. Many rank-and-file educators have been voicing their concerns about safety for weeks, and some are even threatening sickouts or other labor actions if buildings reopen.
Education department officials counter that New York City’s infection rate is low enough to reopen buildings as long as social distancing is maintained, students wear masks, and schools follow a series of other safety precautions. City officials have said schools can open as long as the citywide infection rate stays below 3%.
“With a citywide infection rate of 1%, New York City is the safest major city in the country,” education department spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon said in a statement. “Health and safety is guiding our reopening plans every step of the way and we will be welcoming the vast majority of our students back into school buildings this fall.”
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.