Parent Group Calls for at Least 30% of Public School Learning to be Outdoors This Fall


Outside PS 84, before the pandemic.

Some Upper West Side parents have been pushing the Department of Education to move more activities outside when schools reopen this fall. The disease has been shown to spread more quickly indoors than outdoors, and outdoor education has been used in past pandemics.

Cara Sclafani and Kari Docter have been heading up the effort in their roles as the chairs of the D3 Green Committee for parent group CEC3, a kind of school board (with less power) for the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem.

Sclafani wrote about their efforts below, and the text of the resolution is here.

On Wednesday night, after another marathon CEC3 meeting, which represents Upper West Side and Central Harlem public schools, a resolution on Outdoor Schools passed which urges the DoE to find outdoor spaces for all public schools in D3, hopefully leading the way for the rest of the city.

The resolution asks that the NYC DoE pursue use of outdoor spaces to execute any and all daily classroom activities with an expectation to identify space for 30% of student enrollment to be outside at any given time and to ensure equitable roll-out by ensuring all students at all schools are given the opportunity for time outdoors on all days for which they are physically in attendance. It also asks that the NYC DOE initiate a feasibility study of school buildings to review outdoor spaces such as playground and/or yard space and roof tops on school grounds, close proximity park or yard space, and potential for street closure space. It also calls upon lawmakers to set aside funds to make outdoor classrooms feasible for all schools in the city and for the NYC DoE to establish plans for less than ideal weather, including use of tents or other canopies, space heaters, extra clothing etc., and to consider contingencies for severe weather which would include standards for schedule changes and closures.

The movement that brought this resolution to be stems from a parent and teacher consortium that focuses on bringing sustainable practices and gardens to our schools, the D3 Green Schools Group.  Discussion started in May about the prospect of outdoor schools as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The D3 Green Schools Group has been a long time supporter of school gardens and getting kids outside, but now there was a much more urgent need.  Some members were able to join a nation-wide Zoom workshop hosted by Green Schoolyards America.  With inspiration from this workshop, the co-chairs, Kari Docter and Cara Sclafani, kicked off an initiative to see if it might actually be possible to implement outdoor classrooms in NYC- after all – with all the cold weather and rain we get, and with the NYC DoE so big, it is very easy to dismiss the idea out of hand.

The first meeting was hosted on June 25th at which all schools in D3 were invited to join in the effort.  The action to those who were willing to take it on, was to form small groups of parents & teachers at individual schools to start to seriously consider how it could work at their own school, really focusing on what should be and not the challenges, and of course, to start socializing it and raising it through to whatever networks they have as individuals.  National Wildlife Federation of NYC and GrowNYC School Gardens took part in that meeting and have since formed a Task Force of community organizations to develop a practical toolkit for Outdoor Classrooms at NYC schools.  Additionally, Ms. Sclafani is part of the Infrastructure working group with Green Schoolyard America’s national effort, in which there is a sub team on urban schools that will be doing a case study on P.S. 185 in Harlem.  The D3 Green Schools Group will work to share and replicate this information out to all schools in the district (and beyond) to help bring the broad visions these groups are developing into real terms.

The resolution passed tonight is meant to make it clear to DoE officials that the need for use of outdoor spaces is a viable and safer option that better addresses the social emotional needs of the students and allows for physical movement throughout the day.  It is also an important start to the planning for if (or when) the transmission rates increase and the school buildings are forced to close again entirely (if they ever do open this fall).

If you’d like to participate in this initiative send an email to d3greenschoolsgroup@gmail.com to be added to the distribution list.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 12 comments | permalink
    1. Ruth Bonnet says:

      I can see this working in Southern California, but in NYC? Rain, people. Rain and other inclement weather…

      • WeaGuy says:

        No kidding. My thought was – ok, and what about month 2 and beyond???

        • boys mom uws says:

          Tents that have sides to keep out rain & such are used for outdoor events all the time.

      • Dissident says:

        A possible solution for dealing with inclement weather could be to adopt wide flexibility in scheduling. E.g., compensate as necessary for missed time due to weather by holding classes on weekends and holidays. Perhaps even hold school throughout the summer months.

        Though I’m not aware of any evidence of that schools have been significant spreaders of WuHan Coronavirus, or even that children spread it.

      • Dissident says:

        [To replace previous]
        A possible solution for dealing with inclement weather could be to adopt flexible scheduling according to weather. School hours missed due to weather could be made-up on weekends and holidays. Perhaps school should be held throughout most of the summer.

        I will note that I’m not aware of any evidence, though, that schools have been significant spreaders of WuHan Coronavirus, or even that children altogether have. Seems like what we are witnessing here is at least as much the self-serving manipulations of the teachers’ unions and other special interests as anything else.

    2. Leon says:

      Great idea but who is paying for this? Have you seen the city’s budget lately?

    3. CityGirl57 says:

      Gina Belafonte wrote about the success of outdoor classrooms in the city during previous pandemics in last weeks NYTimes! It has some issues but can be done with adjustments …we all need to adapt and be thinking outside the box!

    4. Sue says:

      I think its a great idea. I hope they are able to push this through. With so many parks within blocks distance of schools, its doable. I would love for my kids to have this experience. I appreciate how these 2 women are thinking outside the box, and I applaud them.

    5. Mom/park enthusiast says:

      Love this idea and think it only needs creativity to make it work. Too many will want to dismiss it just because they can’t imagine it. Step aside and let others with a vision lead.

    6. Ray Lustig says:

      It was always a good idea to get more outdoor time for NYC public school kids, and one that was dismissed. But now it could make the difference between school and no school at all. Crisis can breed innovation here and we can liberate ourselves from a status quo that was never perfect anyway. Yes, bad weather is the challenge, but as they say, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing for the weather. We don’t need to bring everything completely outside, just to get as much as we can outside, to bring down the numbers of people occupying the building at any one time and throughout the day. With a combination of tents, clothing, heaters, and more other good ideas, we might be able to save the school year for our city’s children.

    7. ST says:

      As if Central Park isn’t already overrun as it is. Poor Park.