by David B. Caruso and Karen Matthews

West Brooklyn Community High School principal Malik Lewis (left) bumps the elbows with former student Jason Cardoso after Cardoso received the diploma he received upon graduation on March, Thursday, November 19, 2020 at the New York borough of Brooklyn. Cardoso, along with many West Brooklyn students who graduated that spring, was unable to return to school because he works during school hours. The school has had to close three times since spring because of the corona virus. (AP Photo / Kathy Willens)

New York City will reopen its school system to face-to-face learning and increase the number of days per week that many children attend classes even as the coronavirus pandemic in the city intensifies, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday.

The announcement marks a major political reversal for the country’s largest school system, less than two weeks after de Blasio announced that schools would be closed due to an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the city.

Some elementary schools and preschool programs will resume classes on December 7th, a week from Monday, the mayor said. Others take longer to reopen their doors.

School programs for students with special needs of all grade levels will be open for face-to-face learning from December 10, de Blasio said.

The plan to reopen middle and high schools is still under development, said de Blasio.

“We are confident that we can protect the schools,” he said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democratic compatriot, said he supported de Blasio’s plan to reopen the school.

“I think this is the right direction,” said the governor on a conference call with reporters. “We have new facts and information about schools.”

New York City public schools opened in September for face-to-face learning for students whose parents had opted for school-only. The school buildings were closed again on November 19 due to the increasing number of COVID-19 infections in the city.

Masks and social distancing were mandatory during the weeks schools were open, and the class size was a fraction of the prepandemic average of up to 25-30 students.

Approximately 190,000 students can return to classrooms in the first round of reopening, just a fraction of the more than 1 million students in the system. The vast majority of parents have chosen to have their children learn remotely using computers.

De Blasio said that many of those returning in person can attend five days of classes a week, from one to three days beforehand.

Students who attend in person must undergo frequent tests for the virus. Previously, the city had set itself the goal of testing 20% ​​of the teachers and students in each school building once a month. Now the tests are done weekly.

The mayor said the city scrapped its previous school shutdown trigger when 3% or more of virus tests done in the city over a seven-day period came back positive.

“The idea of ​​the hard number made a lot of sense back in the summer when we hadn’t seen anything before,” said de Blasio.

Since then, according to de Blasio, relatively few positive coronavirus tests in schools have shown that it is possible to keep schools open even with a city-wide test positive rate of over 3%.

Schools that are in Cuomo-designated orange COVID-19 zones due to rising infection rates will reopen according to rules set by the governor, de Blasio said.

De Blasio said at a press conference that he had discussed his reopening plan with Cuomo. “We all agree that we have a different reality from the summer and that this is now the way forward and the best way to protect everyone,” he said.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said the union supports the reopening plan as long as rigorous testing is in place.

“This strategy – if done properly – will allow us to provide safe in-person tuition to the maximum number of students until we are over the pandemic,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

Mark Cannizzaro, president of the council of school overseers and administrators who represent school principals, said school principals “deeply understand the need for children to learn in person as regularly as possible, so long as all safety protocols are based on medical instruction and professionals.”

New York City passed the 3% threshold in early November, and things have gotten slightly worse since then. More than 9,300 New York City residents have tested positive for the virus in the past seven days.

However, the rate of positive coronavirus tests at school locations has remained low. A spokesman for de Blasio said more than 160,000 students and school staff were tested and that only about 0.25% of the results were positive.

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