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World News

Lost year: New York parents wrestle with uncertainty as more schools open

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jodi Cook will drop off her son to his Brooklyn school on Tuesday for the first time in months, but even though her 6-year-old will get at least some time interacting face to face with teachers and staff, she fears it will not be enough.

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Going back to the classroom was the only viable option for Roberto, Cook said. He has some learning challenges and did not do well with remote learning when schools shut last spring. But even with a return to the classroom, Cook fears he might end up not getting access to all the services he needs.

“I’m going to kind of go into it thinking of this year as a wash,” Cook, a 48-year-old who works in real estate, told Reuters. “He needs additional support that he’s not going to be able to get.”

Hundreds of thousands of students who have chosen in-person learning will head back to the classroom in New York City this week after a months-long hiatus spurred by COVID-19.

Children in elementary schools are due to start in-person instruction on Tuesday as part of the city’s blended learning plan, which calls for students to spend some of the week in schools and the remainder learning at home online.

Efforts to bring students back to the classroom in the country’s largest public school district serving more than 1 million students did not go off without a hitch.

Mayor Bill de Blasio delayed in-person learning at public schools twice due to staffing shortages and other difficulties arising from the pandemic. Recently, positive test rates for the coronavirus have been rising in some neighborhoods. Should the city cross its 3% threshold, schools will have to close in-person learning.

Most other major school districts in the United States have scrapped plans to resume in-person education for now. In Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the nation, and Chicago, students are staying home and using laptops to attend classes.

Despite the challenges posed by this most unusual school year, Cook said the teachers and staff at their Brooklyn school had been “great” in the run-up to the start of in-person education.

They called for check-ins and followed up when the family had to delay the start of Roberto’s virtual learning earlier this month, and they scrambled to make sure he gets access to the in-person special care he needs, although they could not guarantee it due to limited resources.

Classrooms in the city’s schools look very different from what pupils are accustomed. Educators had to implement numerous changes in order to meet new health and safety guidelines, including revamping old ventilation systems.

Face coverings, fewer desks placed six feet apart, lunch in the classroom, outdoor classes for some, and nurses on the premises are some of the novelties awaiting students and staff this academic year.

“We’ve been talking to them about how they have to wear their masks and we’ve been describing to them what the classroom is going to look like,” said Anne Cole Norman, a Brooklyn mother of two. “I think mostly they’re just happy, excited to go back and see kids.”

Last week, pre-kindergarten children and students with special learning needs resumed in-person learning. After elementary schools, it will be middle and high school students’ turn to return to the classroom on Thursday.

Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Aurora Ellis

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