New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that high school students will return to in-person instruction on March 22, presenting a major step forward in the process to return to normal from the coronavirus pandemic.
The struggle to sort out in-person school attendance has been a centerpiece policy for de Blasio, even as the threat of teenagers as spreaders remains an issue.
The mayor remains optimistic that the city can handle the initial return, which will present a mix of strategies. Around half the city’s 488 high schools will offer full-time instruction for most or all of their in-person students, while the other half will use hybrid instruction, the New York Times reported.
"We have all the pieces we need to bring high school back and bring it back strong, and, of course, bring it back safely," de Blasio said at a news conference. "We are bringing our schools back fully in September, period."
The decision is likely based on the recent decline and plateau of new cases in the United States, and New York specifically: From the peak of around 14,000 new daily cases on Jan. 11, the city registered around 7,200 new cases on Mar. 7.
Only students who signed up for in-person classes in the fall can report to classrooms, totaling around 55,000 of the 282,000 high school students across the city, according to Reuters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently remained consistent with its message that younger students can safely return – with safety measures in place – without requiring teachers receive vaccinations – but high schools have proven more problematic.
Vaccines have so far been approved for people 16 years or older, meaning at that high school populations are possibly vulnerable to infection.
Those worries have led to fierce debate in the past month, with some officials blaming teacher unions for resisting in-person returns for any grade level despite CDC guidance.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spent weeks in discussion with the local teacher’s union to agree to a plan for pre-K to 8th grade students to return.
Union president Jesse Sharkey said the plan was "not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families."
Lightfoot described the Chicago Teacher’s Union as "akin to a political party."
New York City hosts the largest school system in the U.S., with 1.1 million students.