Introduction and Communication


On March 15, 2020, the nation’s largest school district underwent a historic transformation, closing school buildings in order to protect our 1.1 million students, and all staff, families, and fellow New Yorkers from COVID-19. 

Then, as now, health and safety are our chief priority. As we look ahead to September, we see the big picture: the continuing rise in cases across the country; current guidance from City, State, and Federal health authorities; and the knowledge that as the trajectory of the virus continues to evolve, the guidance we must follow will also evolve. When it does, we have to be ready, and prepared to adapt. We’ve also received over 400,000 responses from families and students to a survey asking about preferences and concerns for the upcoming year, and parent input has been critical in our planning.

Taken together, this picture demands we begin the 2020-21 school year in an unprecedented way—including new health protocols, physical distancing, and more. Make no mistake: New York City students will still be learning 5 days a week. A major difference is that we are preparing to deliver their education through a blended learning model. Blended learning means students will be taught on-site in school for part of the week, and will attend school remotely on the other days of the week.

We are ready for this: adapting and strengthening our practices; investing in the technology required to provide a quality online academic experience—including distributing over 300,000 iPads to students who need them; and working with teachers to be more effective online instructors. We will update curriculum to reflect the blended learning online and in-person model, and to ensure the guidelines and curriculum include appropriate social-emotional learning and mental health supports. 

Any family can also choose all-remote learning, for any reason. But we know that the majority of families want as much in-person instruction as is safely possible, and we will work to maximize it at every turn, consistent with health and safety requirements. We will continue to lead with the lens of equity and excellence, giving your child what they need to excel—and recognizing the ways that will be different from each of their classmates, especially in a time of crisis. We will not look away from the ways this virus has further magnified the effects of systemic racism in our communities. We will continue to explore opportunities to directly correct structural inequities—like closing the digital divide. 

What We Know

  • Parents need consistency to keep their kids focused, schedule childcare, keep life organized; confidence in the safety of their children in their learning environments, and agency in the decisions that will affect their livelihood and families. 
  • Students need routine in their learning—building habits and academic success through regular pattern and cadence of instruction and support for both academic and social and emotional health. 
  • Teachers need clear expectations for schedule and pace for working with students so they can maximize support in right modality. 
  • Principals need flexibility to choose what will work best for their student body and community; need to be able to choose among options. 

Our plans must be nimble so we can adjust and update as needed, as the public health landscape continues to evolve. All of the most up-to-date information will be available on NYCDOE’s dedicated webpage for the 2020-2021 School Year.

We also know that New Yorkers can rise to meet the challenge, and that everyone at DOE will be there every step of the way to support our students and families.

This plan includes procedures that will be followed in all NYCDOE schools.

Our Guiding Principles 

Our planning for the 2020-21 School Year centers on key values that guide all our work and decision-making. They are: 

  • Physical and mental health of our students, teachers, staff, and families; 
  • Greater equity among students with respect to the education they receive and the learning environment in which they receive it—whether virtual or in-person; 
  • Academic achievement for students through high-quality instruction, tailored enrichment, and culturally responsive educational practices that allow students to see themselves reflected in the materials and lessons of their education; 
  • Social-emotional and trauma-informed support for all students; 
  • Community and continuity all year among students, and between students and teachers/staff; 
  • Priority support for students and families who have trouble accessing and engaging in remote learning; 
  • Deeper empowerment of our families as essential partners in their children’s education 
  • Frequent, consistent, and transparent communication with families, schools, and partners; 
  • Clear guidance for schools in balance with the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of their particular school community; and 
  • Commitment to continuous improvement; flexibility in response to evolving public health, budgetary, and environmental conditions; and sustained fulfillment of the needs of students, families, and staff. 

Our Planning Process

March – May: School Reopening Planning

  • Capture lessons learned from SY 2019/2020. 
  • Shape the planning process to address COVID-19 impacts. 

May – June: School Reopening Design

  • Build a school opening plan that focuses on: 
    • Health and Safety 
    • Blended Learning 
    • Social Emotional Learning and Mental Health Supports 
    • Staff and Operations 
  • Consult and survey parents, students, labor partners, advocates and government authorities. 

June – September: School Reopening Implementation

  • Implement the school opening plan with families, principals, teachers and other staff. 
  • Finalize initial school budget allocations, enrollments, schedules and curricula. 

September 2020: Schools Open

  • School starts for all students. 
  • Contingency plans in place to close school buildings. 

We have been planning for the reopening of school buildings since the day they closed. Since that time, we’ve heard from hundreds of thousands of families, students, and staff; closely followed national and international trends; and worked with multiple City agencies, City and State education advisory groups, and other partners. We remain in lockstep with the City’s health experts, and we continue to look to CDC and State Health guidance as the basis for all of DOE’s plans. 

Family and Student Survey Results 

Our families are our partners as we chart this new path forward, and we heard from 300,000 of them—in addition to 110,000 students—in a citywide survey on reopening. The survey findings, along with information from public health experts, will continue to guide our reopening plans.

Health & Safety 

  • More than 90% of respondents identified the importance of having cleaning supplies such as hand sanitizer available 
  • 48% of student respondents (Grades 6-12) said they were very or mostly comfortable wearing a mask to school every day, along with 
    • 43% of families grades Pre-K -2
    • 51% of families grades 3-8 
    • 62% of families grades 9-12 

Preferred Schedules 

  • 53% of parents feel very or mostly comfortable sending their child back to school. 24% feel a little comfortable and 22% feel not at all comfortable. 
  • 72% of parents prefer sending their child back to school if safety measures are in place. When presented with the option to alternate days, alternate weeks, or learn at home every day,
    • 48% of students and 53% of families prefer alternating days 
    • 25% of students and 26% of families prefer to learn from home every day
    • 25% of students and 19% of families prefer alternating weeks 

Student Experience 

  • 76% of students and 81% of families identified core instruction areas (math, science, social studies, ELA) as priorities for in-person instruction more than other classes like PE, art and electives 
  • 55% of students and 69% of families prefer having a variety of methods to learn at home, including paper packets, live instruction, and one-on-one tutoring 

Equity and Excellence: Our Continued Commitment 

Our vision of educational equity and excellence for all students persists even during this time of crisis. We are laser focused on helping children achieve academic excellence by providing key academic, social-emotional, and other supports to unlock their full potential to learn—no matter who they are. We remain focused on high-quality, tailored instruction for every student.

Our Four Organizational Priorities 

Despite the challenges of this moment, the Chancellor’s four organizational priorities remain:

  1. Accelerate Learning and Instruction 
  2. Develop People
  3. Partner with Communities 
  4. Advance Equity Now

System-Wide Strategies for Academic Excellence 

In the nation’s largest school district, no two schools or students are the same. Yet there are best practices that underpin system-wide approaches to cultivating academic excellence in every classroom and for each of our pupils. These approaches continue in the time of COVID-19.

Comprehensive School Support

A system-wide strategy to ensure that every school is effectively supported in having their needs met. 

Supportive Environment Framework

A system-wide approach to ensure safe, supportive, welcoming, and affirming environments in every classroom, for every student. 

Instructional Leadership Framework- Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education 

A system-wide approach to accelerating learning and instruction in every classroom, for every student. Our approach to instruction—the Instructional Leadership Framework—means we have asked schools to focus on 3 strategies: 

  1. Strengthen Core Instruction 
  2. Know Every Student Well
  3. Use Shared and Inclusive Curriculum 

We are committed to Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education, which embraces students’ identities and sees diversity as a source of knowledge. 

Family and Community Engagement

As we prepare for a school year like no other in our history, we will prioritize communicating with families, students, and community leaders to ensure they have the information they need to prepare for school.

NYCDOE has sent regular communications to families about school reopening policies and procedures, all of which are translated into the nine languages. We have also sent regular all-staff emails outlining the reopening guidance and impact on their work.

NYCDOE organized and ran bi-weekly citywide virtual Family Information Sessions throughout July and August. These sessions were hosted by DOE senior leadership and included with simultaneous translations in Spanish and Chinese. Each session had over 20,000 participants. There are two more scheduled before the start of the school year. NYCDOE senior leadership also participated in over a dozen virtual Town Halls hosted by New York City and State elected officials across the city, focused on informing families of plans and policies in place for school reopening, and will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

NYCDOE also created a Family Engagement Toolkit (on our InfoHub for Staff, sign in required) for school principals to use to communicate with and engage their local school communities.

Website and Social Media

NYCDOE created a Return to School 2020 section of both our family facing and employee web sites, which is updated with each new guidance and policy as it is announced.

NYCDOE’s website is accessible in 23 different languages and meets accessibility standards (WCAG 2.0 AA complaint for people with disabilities, including people who are blind or partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing, and anyone who uses assistive technology to access information from our websites). 

New policy announcements and information on public engagement sessions are also amplified across NYCDOE’s social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Stakeholder Engagement

As we continue to develop and finalize guidelines and protocols for the beginning of the school year, we have and will continue to engage families, educators, staff and advocates in the policy development process. This includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Almost daily meetings with leaders of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) to jointly develop health & safety and education protocols. Extensive engagement with other DOE union partners including Local 891, 94, 328BJ, 372, and District Council 37. 
  • A health & safety working group consisting of representatives from the New York City Department of Education (DOE), New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and NYC Test + Trace Corps to develop health and safety protocols for school buildings, staff, and students 
  • A weekly roundtable with education advocates and parent leaders to get policy feedback prior to releasing guidance. Policies as diverse as our Integrated Co-Teaching guidance, test and trace protocols, art, physical education guidance and more were brought to this group of parent leaders, community leaders, and advocates to gather feedback and input into the decision-making process. 
  • Informal focus groups with various groups of teachers, families, and staff to get feedback on possible guidance before it is released;
  • An ongoing working group of principals and superintendents to ensure that the guidance can be implemented at the school level 
  • Regular briefings with the Panel for Education Policy, Community Education Councils (CECs), City and State elected officials, and other community stakeholders
  • Roundtables with over 450 leaders of community-based organizations that contract with the district to provide pre-kindergarten via the New York City Early Education Centers (NYCEECs) Directors’ Virtual Roundtables in June. Through the roundtables, NYCDOE solicited feedback and ideas from leaders about how to structure reopening in ways that were responsive to the needs of their communities. 
  • An Education Sector Council Advisory Group consisting of 45 representatives from across the education sector that convened weekly in May and June 

Language Access

NYCDOE is committed to ensuring that parents whose preferred language is other than English are provided with a meaningful opportunity to participate in and have access to programs and services critical to their child’s education. All communications on reopening that have gone to families have been translated into the nine most common languages other than English spoken by parents of New York City school children (Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu), NYCDOE’s website is accessible in 23 different languages.

Every school will submit a Language Translation and Interpretation Plan for Parents, which serves as the school’s strategy for communicating with families whose preferred language is other than English. DOE held a 3-day virtual language access forum for language access coordinators and other staff who work with families whose preferred languages are other than English. Topics covered included remote best practices for interpretation services, language access updates, Language Translation and Interpretation Plans for families, sign language services, translation of IEP and 504 plans, and targeted supports and community resources for multilingual families. 

NYCDOE’s Information on Remote Learning web page includes specific guidance for families of English Language Learners on how to access and use translation tools at home (Google Translate) and set a language preference on their devices. DOE developed guidance documents for families on navigating the remote learning portal, Google Classroom, and Google Translate in multiple languages 

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