NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Tens of thousands of New York City middle school students returned to their school buildings on Thursday for the first time since city schools were closed in November amid a surge in coronavirus infections.
Teachers were back in school buildings Wednesday preparing for in-person classes after several months of all-remote learning.
Parents of an estimated 62,000 students, in grades 6 through 8, chose a mix of in-person and remote learning for their children. There are about 196,000 students in those grades in the city’s public schools.
Along with the students, an estimated 60,000 staff members are expected to return to 149 buildings and 335 schools, according to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
“We’re really excited,” Carranza told NewsNation affiliate WPIX.
Some city elementary school students were the first to resume in-person classroom learning in December, along with more intense coronavirus testing and tracing protocols. Most upper-grade classrooms have remained closed except for those serving some special-needs students and no date has been set for reopening of high schools.
“This is really an important moment, bringing back our middle school kids, getting them in the classroom, giving them an opportunity to learn from talented, committed, passionate educators,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
Students receiving in-person instruction in the city are required to wear face coverings at all times, maintain distance from others and submit to random COVID-19 testing. De Blasio said the city has performed 500,000 tests for the virus on students and staff members since the school year started.
The mayor said that about 30,000 city educators have been vaccinated against the virus so far. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, whose union represents more than 120,000 teachers, guidance counselors and other school staff members, said that’s not enough. “Even putting the most positive spin on the city’s numbers, there are tens of thousands of staff who have not yet had access to the vaccine,” Mulgrew said in a statement.
Recent guidance from the state Department of Education suggested the city could not mandate parents sign COVID-19 testing consent forms for their children threatened to derail middle school reopening plans. Carranza said the state DOE has since revised its position.
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WPIX contributed to this article.