BROOKLYN – Schools are now able to use parks and streets as part of a new ‘Outdoor Learning’ initiative unveiled this morning by Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Richard Carranza.
The Outdoor Learning initiative for the 2020-2021 school year will allow schools to hold classes outdoors in schoolyards, adjacent streets, and nearby park space. According to the Mayor, the program is open to all public, charter, and private schools, as well as Learning Bridges.
School principals can submit a request for a space in adjacent streets and parks near their respective schools beginning today. For schools that would like to use their own yards, they have to fill out a survey to notify the DOE. According to the City, for those who submit their proposals by Friday, August 28, should hear back by September 4, though requests can be submitted on a rolling basis. Schools with no outdoor space that are in areas that were hardest hit by COVID-19 will receive priority. In Brooklyn, the neighborhoods include Brighton Beach, Brownsville, East NY, Starrett City, Sunset Park, Canarsie, Bushwick, Bedford Stuyvesant, and East Flatbush.
“We heard those voices that said, ‘Could we do something different under these circumstances?’ The answer is: yes. This will apply to our public schools, our charter schools, private/religious schools, Learning Bridges schools. You name it. One standard for all,” de Blasio said in his press conference this morning. “It’s great to be outdoors in general, but we also know that the disease does not spread the same outdoors. We’ve seen that over and over. So, we want to give schools the option to do as much outdoors as they can.”
All submissions will be reviewed by the Department of Parks & Recreation, Department of Transportation, Department of Sanitation, FDNY, and the NYPD. Schools are also required to provide barriers and staffing to close any street. Schools are heavily encouraged to select streets that are quiet and non-commercial; one-way streets; not a truck or MTA route; and not used by the NYPD, fire station, hospital, or as a parking garage.
“As a teacher and school leader, I always knew how important it was for kids to get some time outdoors, and as we get closer to reopening I’m excited to offer Outdoor Learning to schools across the City, even those without a yard,” Carranza said. “Our students need time to run and play, explore, and create in a safe, socially distanced way. Outdoor Learning provides more of that, more often, and we are grateful to our sister agencies for working together to make this possible.”
Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, released the following short statement after the unveiling of the Outdoor Learning program.
“The mayor’s reopening plan continues to fall short, particularly in terms of necessary testing.”
The program will be in coordination with the Department of Transportation to figure out the best ways to accommodate schools. According to Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, “New York City has shown the crucial role that streets can play in aiding our recovery from COVID-19. For the new school year, Outdoor Learning is the next step. Working closely with the DOE and our agency partners, we will find and assess streets and other outdoor locations suitable for safely hosting students, prioritizing communities of color hit hardest by the pandemic.”
Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte who represents the 42nd Assembly District, which includes one of the hardest-hit areas, “The NYC School Survey informed us that the majority of parents in the city want their children to return to an in-person learning model. The citywide Outdoor Learning initiative will help students and teachers to stay safe this Fall while continuing to prioritize education. We know that outdoor gatherings are lower risk when it comes to virus transmission. I am glad to see the city prioritizing schools in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, like my district, which includes East Flatbush, Brooklyn, for the program.”
Council Member Brad Lander, who represents Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, and Kensington in District 39, applauded the effort of prioritizing outdoor space for students.
“Outdoor space in streets, parks, and playgrounds will give schools much-needed flexibility as they plan to safely bring our students and teachers together this fall — for outdoor lunch, gym, recess, instruction, and related services. I’m grateful to the city leaders who listened to our pleas for this common-sense plan to increase the footprint of our schools at this urgent moment,” Lander said. “Prioritizing opening streets and providing park permits in neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by the pandemic is important to mitigate the inequities that shape so much of our city.”
“And I’m especially happy to see the Department of Education adopt our idea to strongly encourage PTAs who purchase tents or gear for their own schools to contribute an equal amount for schools that don’t have those resources,” he continued. “For access to outdoor space — and, of course, for our schools far more broadly — to really be equitable, we need far more resources from the federal government and the state.”