- Associated Press - Friday, March 19, 2021

NEW YORK (AP) - New York City public school students will get another chance to go back to school in-person this spring after federal authorities eased their guidance on how many children can safely fit in a classroom, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

He said the new window for choosing in-person school would open next week, with details to be announced Monday. Returns to the classroom will start with preschoolers and elementary school students.

“For parents of kids in younger grades, we are confident that we will be able to bring back a substantial number of students by the end of April,” said de Blasio, a Democrat.

But the teachers union questioned the mayor’s authority to open the schoolhouse doors to more students and complained that he had issued a “proclamation without a plan.”

“We will wait for New York state to weigh in,” the United Federation of Teachers said in a statement.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier Friday that students can safely sit 3 feet (1 meter) apart in the classroom if they wear masks. The agency previously called for 6 feet (2 meters) of distance. Schools around the country had to remove desks and stagger schedules in order to meet that standard.

Students should still be kept the usual 6 feet away from one another at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, the CDC said.

The UFT said it would be “extremely complicated to implement such a plan in New York City public schools” in an email to members before de Blasio’s announcement.

About 70% of New York City’s more than 1 million public school students have elected to learn online, the Department of Education said. While it’s unclear how many will sign up to return to physical classrooms for the last three months of the school year, the mayor suggested “a lot of parents have been clamoring for that opportunity.”

Parents were asked last summer to choose between all-online learning and a blend of in-person and remote education for the fall. They had another chance in early November to opt in for in-person school. But all school buildings closed days later because of a rise in virus cases.

Elementary schools reopened on Dec. 7, and middle schools on Feb. 25. High schoolers are set to go back this coming Monday.

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