New York education advocates and state lawmakers are calling on school districts to offer a remote learning option as students and teachers return to in-person instruction amid the uncertainty of the delta variant.
Schools across the state are reopening either this week or in the coming days after more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic has upended traditional education services for nearly every age group.
But the concern amid the spike in cases this summer from the highly contagious delta variant of the virus is whether in-classroom teaching can still be conducted safely.
“Remote learning has been tough for some, but not all parents," said Jasmine Gripper, the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, Albany-based advocacy group. "If a few parents decide to keep their children home with a remote option, the safety of our schools increases particularly in communities where overcrowded classrooms are the norm. These overcrowded classrooms are predominantly filled with low-income Black and Brown students."
Schools are reopening with universal masking rules in place indoors, regardless of a person's vaccination status. Adult school personnel will be tested weekly for the virus unless they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, according to guidance released by the state Department of Health.
Still, the drawbacks for education advocates is the lack of social distancing and the potential ease of spreading COVID in the community as schools reopen.
“Since districts have not made any significant effort to reduce class sizes since COVID-19 began, not offering a remote learning option puts those students in the most crowded classrooms at greatest risk of contracting COVID and spreading it to their families and communities," Gripper said. "That means that it is Black and Brown students most at risk by the decision to only offer in-person instruction."
State lawmakers in New York City, meanwhile, urged schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter to provide a remote option for students as schools are set to reopen next week.
"We can still get this right!" Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz posted to Twitter.