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New York Shifts Its Thinking and Reopens Elementary Schools

Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

When New York City closed its public school system earlier this month, the backlash from many parents was swift and severe. Some were forced to abruptly find new child care arrangements. Others worried that their children would miss out on learning if they weren’t in classrooms. Many felt that closing schools actually did little to protect the city from the spread of the coronavirus.

On Sunday, the city offered a partial reprieve.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that public elementary schools would reopen starting on Dec. 7. Middle and high schools remain closed for now. Mr. de Blasio also signaled further changes in how the city manages the school system during the pandemic.

Richard A. Carranza, the city’s schools chancellor, said at a news conference on Sunday with Mr. de Blasio that “getting our children back in school buildings is one of the single most important things we can do for their well-being.”

The Background

The school system was first shut down because of the pandemic in March, prompting teachers, administrators and students to scramble to adjust to a new remote learning dynamic.

In October, the city completed an ambitious reopening of all of its public schools for in-person instruction, becoming the only large district in the country to do so. Data seemed to indicate that reopening schools had not led to many new infections.

But Mr. de Blasio had vowed that if the city’s seven-day test positivity rate reached 3 percent, schools would close again to guard against the spread of the virus. Many parents wondered whether the 3 percent threshold was appropriate or a relic from earlier days of the pandemic, when scientists knew less about the relative safety of schools.

Still, Mr. de Blasio held fast, and earlier this month, public schools closed down again.

The Reopening

Children in pre-K, kindergarten and grades 1 through 5 can return starting Dec. 7. Mr. de Blasio also announced that students with the most complex disabilities can return on Dec. 10.

Students can return only if they have already signed up for in-person learning. About 190,000 children are eligible to return next week.

The city will increase testing: A sampling of students and staff in each building will be tested every week, instead of every month.

The city will also abandon the 3 percent positivity threshold and instead close schools those that have multiple confirmed virus cases.

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