With a second shutdown of schools looming, final deadline to choose blended learning also approaches

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In late October, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that students will get only one chance between November 2 and November 15 to opt back into blended learning for the remainder of the school year, presenting a challenge for students who intended to switch to blended learning later in the year. With a rise in COVID-19 cases making a second shutdown of NYC public schools likely, The Classic spoke to several members in the school community about the looming deadline.

Earlier this week, the THHS administration sent a letter to students and families that discussed the new opt-in window. The letter emphasized to parents and guardians the importance of making a decision based on the “best interests of their children,” but added that “depending on parent decisions during this window, changes may need to be made to our current program.” The letter also asserted that “the greatest learning experiences that are safe, preserve our course offerings and provide the safest way to socialize, seem to be in the fully remote setting.”

Principal Brian Condon was only notified of the restriction a day before it was announced to the public. In an interview with The Classic, he said, “Taking the opportunities to change one’s mind away is not fair and [it’s] unethical.”  

Initially, the plan released by the Department of Education (DOE) stated that students would have the option of switching to blended learning at the end of every quarter. However, the announcement on October 26 changed matters for students and their parents. This development comes during a time where, just weeks ago, Townsend Harris was closed after its zip code was made an ”orange zone” due to rising COVID-19 cases. More recently, cases have been approaching the 3 percent 7 day rolling average positivity rate that would close all NYC schools once again. Finally, just yesterday, Principal Condon sent a letter to the school community that confirmed that one member of the Townsend Harris community had contracted COVID-19 while another person potentially has the virus.

Kevin McDonaugh, UFT Chapter Leader, said “I think that the new ‘one-time-only’ opt in window is a really curious decision, and is very unfair to families, and schools that have worked so hard to provide some continuity and predictability…What if there is a miracle vaccine and the virus goes away in February? Does this mean that if students decided to stay remote in November, when cases were on the rise, that they cannot change their minds once social distancing measures have been softened?”

Mr. McDonaugh also emphasized the fluidity of the situation. He said that “any increase in numbers of students and teachers commuting to and being in the building is an increased threat to public health, especially as numbers are on the rise. The reality we faced in August, which was a shortage of teachers, is still true today.”

Representatives from the NYC Department of Education did not return The Classic’s request for comment.

SU President Sharon Li, who expressed her belief that the deadline is premature and places an additional pressure on students to choose, said “Some other concerns were if students opt into blended learning, when will this take effect? Also, how will the schedules of students be affected? If in the future, if there is a chance with a vaccine, will students be able to still opt into blended learning or be precluded because they missed this deadline?”

She also said, “Most students that I have interacted with have decided to stay remote although they are upset about not returning to school, especially the seniors who will probably never step foot in the building again.” 

Junior Asher Izower, who initially planned to opt in to blended learning once the COVID-19 situation across the country eased, said that he thinks “it is too premature to switch back [and] the best thing we can do is prioritize our safety.”

Similarly, senior Alvin Zou said, “The window of time the city has given to opt into blended learning is rather brief and doesn’t consider how the pandemic will play out for the rest of the year when people may want to come back if and when the pandemic begins to recede.” 

Teacher Nicole Gleizer, who had no “prior knowledge of the announcement” and learned about the development through an email sent to the school community from the administration said, “The deadline shouldn’t force you to go blended. We need to transition to a new ‘normal’ and take it in stride.”

Freshman Sara Lukacevic, who emphasized the importance of safety, said, “The risk of losing electives did affect my decision in the matter. However, it wasn’t a big decider. Valuing the safety of people and getting through the pandemic should be a top priority.”

Alvin said, “It still is up to an individual’s choice based on factors like transportation and necessity of going to school to decide if it is in their best interest to go blended.” 

Additional reporting by Matthew Merino