Return to School 2020

Welcome to the 2020-2021 School Year

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.

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 your 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; 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. We are also awaiting guidance from the State of New York, and we will be closely coordinating with them once it is released. All of the most up-to-date information will be available on this web page. Please remember that this guidance may change as public health conditions evolve.

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. Please read on for guidance and information about attending a New York City public school in the 2020-2021 school year.

  • Read Chancellor Carranza's letter to families about Return to School 2020 on our Message to Families page.

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.

Health and Safety

We are working closely with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to align efforts and ensure that we are ready for a coordinated school reopening. Our health and safety reopening plan also follows current CDC guidance. School buildings will promote healthy behaviors and environments by requiring physical distancing, which currently calls for six feet at all times, face coverings where developmentally appropriate while inside buildings, and increasing access to handwashing and sanitizer. Physical spaces may also be configured to ensure appropriate distances can be maintained, lunch will be held in classrooms or require assigned seating, and each building will have an identified Isolation Room in the event someone becomes ill.

Each building will be deep cleaned on a nightly basis with electrostatic sprayers, which dispense disinfectant so that it adheres to surfaces without the need to physically touch them. The DOE has begun to order cleaning supplies for schools before the start of the year, including an initial order of 11,000 cases of hand sanitizer and 100,000 cases of disinfectant wipes, in addition to providing disposable face coverings to students and staff, and many other cleaning supplies. Each school will be provided with a sufficient amount of these supplies for students and staff to start the school year, and receive additional supplies on an as needed basis.

We also continue to monitor testing and screening guidance, and will be working with principals to apply best practices for entry and exit protocols. Schools will continue to follow health guidance that states the best thing to do is to stay home when sick, and we will partner with NYC health agencies on contact tracing and follow-up.

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 your child 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. 

Student Schedules & Building Programming

In order to provide the maximum number of students receiving in-person instruction at each school and follow health and safety plans, students will rotate in groups between in-person and remote learning. Schools were provided a preliminary estimate of what their space allows taking social distancing into account. These capacity calculations allow for at least six feet of space to be maintained around each person in a classroom, while ensuring that there remains room for teachers and students to circulate. 

The Department of Education has developed three baseline programming options for schools to choose from. The models have been created by analyzing system-wide constraints, researching national and international best practices, surveying parents and students, and by holding focus groups with school leaders and are meant to support schools in determining how to serve the needs of their students and families in line with health and safety guidance. These models apply to Elementary, Middle, and High Schools as noted below. Two additional models are available for District 75 schools. Schools will be able to apply for an exception to implement an alternative model based on that school’s specific needs. Families will be notified of their student’s specific schedule in August.

For families that want to have an all-remote schedule next fall, we will be sending additional information in the coming weeks on how to register. Students will not need a medical reason to register for this option. Families will have the option to review this decision during set time periods for their child, and will be asked to register two weeks prior to the start of the when their child would switch to-in person instruction to give schools time to plan. Principals will make further adjustments based on expected in-person student and staff attendance for the first time in August.

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. Throughout the summer we will engage all of the stakeholders of our school communities—both centrally and within each school community. Centrally, the DOE will host a series of Family & Student Information Sessions to answer any questions or concerns that families may have. On the local level, Principals will plan and develop policy with their School Leadership Teams and Superintendents will share information and plans with their District Leadership Teams and Community Education Councils. We will be forced to make difficult decisions around public education next year, and commit to including families in our decision-making process at every level.

Family and Student Information Sessions 

The first Family and Student Information Session will be hosted by the DOE on July 16.

  • More information about registration will be available here soon.

In addition to these information sessions, schools will host parent meetings to ensure that families receive critical information and updates throughout the summer. We will be convening community and advocate round-table meetings, briefings with elected officials and CEC leaders and more. Additionally, we will update our website regularly with updates.

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