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Mayor Announces Schools Can Utilize Outdoor Space for Classes, Including Streets and Parks

PS 11 School Yard (Queens Post)

Aug. 25, 2020 By Allie Griffin

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that schools can apply to the City to hold classes outside in schoolyards, local parks and closed streets to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Schools that don’t have usable outdoor space within their campuses, as well as schools in neighborhoods that were hit hard by the coronavirus, will get priority for outdoor space in the application process.

The Queens neighborhoods prioritized are Briarwood, Corona, Jamaica, Queensbridge, Rockaway and Far Rockaway, de Blasio said.

The Department of Education (DOE) will work with other city agencies, such as the Parks Department and Department of Transportation (DOT), to find and secure additional outdoor learning areas.

“We want to give schools the option to do as much outdoors as they can,” de Blasio said. “It’s up to [principals] to figure out how to use school yards and anything on school property that’s outdoors, but we’re going to go farther.”

In some cases, the city will close off adjacent streets for a period of time and in other cases, space in local parks can be turned into an outdoor classroom, he said.

School principals can request additional outdoor space and street closures by Friday, Aug. 28. Principals are promised a response from the DOE within a week, by Sept. 4. After that, the DOE will accept requests on a rolling basis. Public, private, charter and religious schools can all apply.

The applications will be reviewed by a group of city agencies including the Parks, Sanitation, Transportation and Education departments along with the NYPD and FDNY.

Requirements for requests for street closures include streets that have little traffic, no bus routes, and no entrances to police or fire stations or hospitals. Schools will have to provide their own street blocking barriers.

De Blasio made the announcement with just two and a half weeks left before public schools reopen — and many officials are asking why it’s so last minute.

“For weeks we have begged the City to consider outdoor learning as a crucial tool for keeping students who must learn in-person safe, only to be rebuffed,” Astoria Council Member Costa Constantinides said. “We will now find ourselves scrambling to identify those open spaces, low-hanging fruit that could’ve been dealt with more than a month ago.”

The principals’ union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), also called the mayor’s announcement too late and said it leaves too many questions unanswered.

“Once again, the City and DOE have made decisions, rolled out guidance and announced a deadline far too late and haphazardly for school leaders to develop and implement a thoughtful and well-constructed plan,” CSA President Mark Cannizzaro said in a statement. “The short-sided guidance on outdoor learning also lacks detail, raising serious concerns around safety and security.”

Scientists have confirmed that the coronavirus is less easily spread outdoors. Many elected officials as well as parents, teachers and principals have readily called on the mayor to allow outdoor learning at city schools.

PS 11 in Woodside (QueensPost)

“Though the idea of outdoor learning has real merit, the City’s plan will not be implemented nearly as well as it could have been if the Mayor had simply given principals the time and support they need,” Cannizzaro said.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer also chastised the mayor’s last-minute decision.

“Why wasn’t this decision made weeks ago? Parents need time to plan—and educators need time to implement these policies successfully,” Stringer tweeted. “New Yorkers deserve proactive leadership—without it we are putting teachers and parents in an impossible situation.”

De Blasio has repeatedly pointed to bad weather as an obstacle for outdoor learning.

“We never know what the weather brings and that’s why outdoor learning – I’ve said it before – is not a perfect solution and it won’t work every day, but it will certainly add a lot of flexibility to what we’re doing and a great alternative for many schools,” de Blasio said Monday.

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