About four months after 1.1 million New York City children were forced into online learning, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that public schools would still not fully reopen in September, saying that classroom attendance would instead be limited to only one to three days a week in an effort to continue to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
The mayor’s release of his plan for the system, by far the nation’s largest, capped weeks of intense debate among elected officials, educators and public health experts over how to bring children back safely to 1,800 public schools.
The decision to opt for only a partial reopening, which is most likely the only way to accommodate students in school buildings while maintaining social distancing, may hinder hundreds of thousands of parents from returning to their pre-pandemic work lives, undermining the recovery of the sputtering local economy.
Still, the staggered schedules in New York City schools for September reflect a growing trend among school systems, universities and colleges around the country, which are all trying to find ways of balancing the urgent need to bring students back to classrooms and campuses while also reducing density to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Everyone is looking to the public school system to indicate the bigger direction of New York City,” Mr. de Blasio said Wednesday.
Under the mayor’s plan, there will probably be no more than a dozen people in a classroom at a time, including teachers and aides, a stark change from typical class size in New York City schools, which can hover around 30 children.
Educators widely consider online learning to be a poor substitute for the classroom, especially for younger children and those with special needs. The shift has also created enormous challenges for parents who have struggled helping their children learn even as they have had to maintain jobs from home or, if they are essential workers, had to scramble for child care.
Still, like New York City’s, many school districts around the country are planning on not reopening fully, and instead will use a mix of in-person and remote learning indefinitely.
President Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off federal funding to school districts that do not reopen in person this fall. On Tuesday he said that the social, psychological and educational costs of keeping children at home would be worse than the virus itself.
Education policy is largely controlled by state and local officials, so Mr. Trump does not have authority over whether systems reopen. He and his aides also did not offer concrete proposals or new financial assistance.
The details of reopening will vary widely between districts depending on the virus’ spread, which is why a return to school may look very different in New York, where transmission is currently low, than in Phoenix, where cases are increasing.
In New York,…