Some Local Parents Want a Remote School Option as Delta Spreads


Photo via NYC mayor’s office.

By Jacob Rose

Due to concerns about the Delta variant and a widely unvaccinated youth population, a growing number of parents and public officials are calling for a remote learning option in New York City public schools this fall.

Mayor de Blasio has so far stuck to his plan to reopen schools for fully in-person learning on September 13th. But there is a chorus of calls demanding that the city provide a remote option for families feeling uncertain about safety in schools.  

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on August 6th sent a letter to the Department of Education requesting “a remote option until the vaccination effort has had an impact on a greater scale.” Brewer cited low vaccination rates among children and in northern Manhattan especially. A majority of City Council Members now support a remote option, including District 6 Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

Council Member Mark Treyger, who represents the 47th district in Brooklyn and has been especially vocal on this issue, has proposed a remote option overseen centrally, rather than by individual schools. As of a week ago, a small majority of the 100 biggest school districts nationwide were offering a fully remote option.

Alex Barnett, a father with a child going into fifth grade in an Upper West Side public school, is among those who support a remote option and says he would choose it for his child. He says that with the Delta variant spreading and schools figuring to be increasingly crowded, schools might be less safe this year than last. He sees no reason not to give families the option to go remote. 

I’m not here telling other people how to live their lives,” he said. “I’m just saying COVID is a real safety risk, particularly for children under 12 [who aren’t eligible for a vaccine]. Why wouldn’t you in an abundance of caution make a remote option available?”

Another contingent of parents believe that the benefits of returning all students to in-person learning outweigh any health risks. Stephanie Kokinos has rising first and third graders and Natalya Murakhver has rising second and sixth graders in Upper West Side public schools.

“We need to do everything we can to find ways to keep children safe and healthy and in school for social-emotional and cognitive development,” Murakhver said. 

Kokinos and Murakhver were leaders of a group which last year sued Mayor de Blasio and DOE Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter demanding a return to fully in-person learning.

The CDC has prioritized a return to in-person learning, pointing to its benefits for children. Transmission of COVID at city schools last year was rare. But the more-transmissible Delta variant is a wildcard now. In some areas of the country, hospitals are admitting more children than they did earlier in the pandemic, but there’s debate over whether that’s because Delta is more severe in children or simply leading to more overall cases.

Elizabeth Sofro, a mother of a rising third grader in an Upper West Side public school, supports a remote option for children who haven’t been offered the vaccine and would choose the option for her child. She says that conversations with her daughter’s pediatrician and several other doctors underscored the threat that the Delta variant poses to children.

“Until we can all be given the opportunity to vaccinate ourselves, those who cannot [get vaccinated] do not need to be slammed into a room of 32 kids,” she said.

Although everyone over 12 is vaccine-eligible, the remote option proposed by Brewer and the City Council would figure to be used by a mix of children under the age 12 as well as teenagers. According to NYC data, which keeps track of vaccination rates by age group and race/ethnicity, 100% of Asian/NHPI teenagers, 78% of white teenagers and 66% of Hispanic/Latino teenagers in Manhattan aged 13-17 have gotten at least one dose. Among Black teens in the borough, that number drops to 35%.

It’s unknown just how many families citywide would opt to go remote. In Success Academy charter schools, which educate about 23,000 students K-12 in the city, about 10% of students chose to go remote through October 8.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 35 comments | permalink
    1. PubliusJay says:

      It seems blindingly obvious that with some staff unvaccinated and some students including everyone under 12 unvaccinated keeping school as remote as possible is the way to go.

      In addition, Delta is highly contagious and while being vaccinated is way, way better than not being vaccinated it is entirely possible to get COVID after being vaccinated.

      (There are some other alternatives such as holding classes outdoors in Sept-Nov. but in the eagerness to return to business as usual that wasn’t really considered. Nor was appropriate effort spent on improving the remote experience.)

      • False dichotomies are misleading says:

        While well intentioned your conclusions are based on two misleading false dichotomies. You conflate infection with severe symptoms such that either a child does not contract delta or else has delta with severe symptoms; you acknowledge no middle ground. Delta created more infection but statistics show that children continue to usually have mild to no symptoms. In any event the next false dichotomy is that the only issue is between possibly getting Delta and no risk – creating supposedly “blindingly obvious” choice. That’s false. Parents always make choices about relative risk as no life activity is perfectly safe. Remote schooling is a mental health and serious academic risk as many parents learned to their dismay. Staying at home in other words is also risky. Here as always parents are balancing risks and many conclude the low chance of severe symptoms against the risks of no in person school point to in person attendance.

    2. Howard Steinberg says:

      If there were to be a remote option…standards need to change for the CHILDREN.

      Students had cameras off, submitting no work. Learning nothing and still advancing to the next grade.

      There needs to be some accountability among children if there is a remote option.

      • lynn says:

        I don’t know anyone who was auto advanced to the next grade. The children I know were doing their homework in parking lots with nearby wifi and struggling to keep up. And I’m not referring to private school kids. Why are you putting the responsibility on children?!

    3. Carlos says:

      Step one is to require every NY public school student who is 12 or older to get vaccinated. That will help manage much of the issue at high schools and improve the situation a lot at middle schools.

      Ideally I would also suggest that all public school parents be required to get vaccinated, but that would be a lot harder to enforce.

    4. Mike NYC says:

      My kid is 6. At this time, his safety and well being is much more important than level of education. He had K last year fully online, he learned enough math and reading (he reads H level without issues).

      My wife and me put lot of hours into this, yes, but what is other option? Kids can die because they went to school. Who will be responsible for it? I am not talking about random shooter or mentally ill person, we are talking about government officials denying safety to our children.

    5. UWS Craig says:

      Children are at risk of covid. Of the over 600,000 deaths from covid, the CDC reports that 361 of those deaths were children 17 and under. 361 lives lost. This is more than twice the 188 that died from influenza over the same period. See the data below.
      https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Provisional-COVID-19-Deaths-by-Sex-and-Age/9bhg-hcku/data
      Kids should not be in school while there is a virus out there that could kill them. We should encourage children to stay home altogether, since last year over 1,000 children died in automobile crashes.
      Parents should be empowered to their keep kids out of risky environments such as schools and cars.

      • Czar Kastic says:

        Re: “We should encourage children to stay home altogether, … over 1,000 children died in automobile crashes. Parents should … keep kids out of risky environments such as schools and cars.”
        Not to mention: pool halls, bowling alleys, opium dens, X-rated movie houses, burlesque shows, etc.

        • RAL says:

          indeed. Not seeing lack of kids all over the place as normal – mostly maskless – but yet people here having a nervous breakdown about gong to school – and now the staff all have to be vaccinated – which makes it safer again. The truth is that this virus is going nowhere – do people plan to keep their kids on remote learning forever?

    6. Ste says:

      If someone is sueing to keep nyc schools in person only, why can’t someone sue the schools to offer remote options for our students? Seems so silly this back and forth. The truth is, if we just keep our kids home even if there isn’t a remote option, then the mayor will realize he needs to provide remote. This is a game and I’m not going to play it with the health of my children and family. Keeping them home. If we all did that, there would be 400,000 kids home with no instruction!

      • School choice says:

        Or NYC could just give you the $30,000+ it spends on your child per year in public school and you could use it to homeschool or to join a private school that nimbly responds to market forces or parochial school ditto or other choice. Why stay hostage to what you identify as an incompetent board of education? you could even stick with NYC public schools whose turgid and inept responses you decry but it would probably would get less inept if it didn’t automatically have a hostage audience of school kids who can’t afford anything else. School choice vouchers would allow you to choose your option. That’s why folks like school choice vouchers.

        • Josh says:

          Except that NYC DOE does not spend over $30,000 per student. The budget per general education student is about $4,500 per student per year. Special education services add to that budget, depending on what services the students get. At the high point, the budget is about $7,500 per student with an IEP.

          • Per pupil spending is about $30K says:

            Alas NYC is notorious for its huge per pupil spending – without concomitant dividends in excellence in teaching — the highest or among the highest per pupil nationally. The amount spent per capita for NYC students in public schools in 2020 seems to have been $28,800 or so – -and a shade less in 2019

            • Josh says:

              Ah, we are not comparing ths same figures. You are looking at the overall budget of the DOE and dividing it by the number of students. I was referring to the amount of money in a school’s budget that goes to cover salaries, textbooks, and other school based expenditures. The rest is bureaucratic expenditures as well as transportation and the like.

          • charles says:

            Josh’s figures 7k may be correct in a narrow sense but it doesn’t change the reality that we are spending 28k per student. Since that is the case give the parents that money as an education voucher. Parents will make their educational choices for their children not government bureaucrats and politicians.

      • Mindingmybusiness says:

        I’m with you. Keeping my child home. If you are not going to guarantee me my child won’t be impacted, then I get to make this choice. Action speaks….

    7. Upper West Side Parent says:

      School starts in less than 3 weeks and the DOE has provided no information about what school reopening will look like – in person, remote, hybrid, etc. Am I surprised, not at all.

      Parent leaders warned the DOE and local representatives that a repeat of last year’s lack of planning and last minute communication was not fair to families and students, yet here we are again.

    8. UWSider says:

      It is time for our children to return to school. My daughter was in class three days a week for the 2020-2021 school year on the UWS and they had only (1) incident of COVID, in which it occured in the after school program and no students tested positive. When you look at the data – schools are safe. Plus, all teachers and faculty must be vaccinated. Most public-school parents do not have the luxury to stay home and/or assist with home (remote) school like many UWS families. There could be a remote option, but it would need to be centralized – not school specific – so as not to drain their resources.

    9. Alex says:

      It’s not clear why folks are so opposed to a remote option. By its very definition, it’s optional. If you don’t wish to avail yourself of it, so be it. But, why oppose it on a blanket basis and as to other people’s children). Given the risks of COVID (and the greater risk of transmission of the Delta variant), it is difficult to understand why a remote option is not being made available.

      • Hey teach says:

        Because you have to find teachers who are actually trained in online learning. I used to teach. It’s a separate skill. It’s much harder to create activities that students can do on their own plus supervise and grade those and teach some of it live. And most students will not thrive with online learning so there’s more repetition and support needed.
        And you have to have enough of those skilled teachers to create an entire curriculum not all math or science teachers. It’s very labor intensive and NYC public schools don’t have the resources or money to do it right.

      • Mindingmybusiness says:

        Agreed. https://schoolchoiceweek.com/guide-to-online-school/

        Why is NY one of 15 states that doesn’t offer remote options for free?

    10. In Person Proponent says:

      Alex Barnett there is a virtual option.

      “New York Virtual Academy | Welcome to New York Virtual Academy!” https://nyva.k12.com

    11. IMO says:

      There’s an option of home school. I don’t understand why parents complain with the lack of remote option, while they can do home school anytime. If schools do remote option, it takes resources from in person classes, such as teachers. According to my children’s principal, teachers can’t teach in person and remote classes at the same time due to child privacy law. They don’t have enough teachers to teach 2 separated set ups.

      • Josh says:

        Homeschooling requires a much greater commitment from parents than an online option. To homeschool, a parent needs to file a curriculum plan with the DOE, and then file regular updates. Most importantly, the parent is completely responsible for the curriculum and its execution. In a remote option, a parent is merely a facilitator. It takes work on the part of the parent, but is a hugely different time commitment.

      • MeInWhySee says:

        The principal of one my kids’ UWS DOE schools said the same thing about simultaneous live/remote instruction being illegal—which was a surprise, since another of my kids at a different UWS DOE school received simultaneous live/remote instruction the entire 20-21 school year. (Was if ideal? No, but nothing last year was)

        • Josh says:

          As a teacher, I can tell you it is not exactly illegal – it requires parental consent of every student who might be on camera. This sounds simple enough, but in practice, there ends up being one or two students in each class whose parents either dont want to sign, or just dont bother. Because of the legal safeguards, not having 100% permission means that you dont livestream. Plus, and this is a BIG addition, you MUST have the teacher’s permission to film in their classroom, and this is not something that can be mandated. So a teacher saying NO cannot be disciplined for it, nor can they be overruled. Even before the pandemic, teachers signed a form every September giving administration approval.to film in their classroom or not. So, I am not putting the blame on any one category of person, just clarifying there are a lot of legal hoops that just make it untenable.

    12. UWSmama says:

      I am thrilled schools will be in person. My child is vaccinated, but even if she were not, on balance I prefer she attend in-person. The last 1.5 years of school closure took a brutal toll socially and emotionally, besides academically.

      That said, as usual, NYC DOE seems woefully underprepared. Even if there is no “full time” remote option (for immunocompromised, terrified, etc.), a fully functioning remote option is needed, into which students can seamlessly integrate at the drop of a dime, for quarantine, isolation, exposure, etc. Does everyone remember pre-covid, when “not that sick” kids were sent to school, and would just circulate disease? One year my child 10+ days due to these habits. This is why sick days were invented, but no one wants to take them. Let’s learn from our mistakes.

    13. This Too Shall Pass says:

      We support a fully remote option. All pandemics come to an end. If you look at the trajectory of the Spanish Flu as a model, it lasted about 2 years.
      If this is the case, we are past the midway point. Taking into account that this is not a permanent situation, I disagree that the social emotional benefits outweigh the risks of having a dead child or one with long COVID.

      No one wants to look back and realize that if they had just waited an additional 6-9 months to send their kids to school that they would still be alive.

    14. JY says:

      NYC DOE’s plan:
      -testing REDUCED to 10% 2x a month only for those unvaxxed & w/consent (this could mean that the same set of kids get tested again and again bc of low consent)
      -25-32+ kids to a room= can’t distance 3ft
      -under 12 not vaccinated
      -MASKLESS eating indoors 2-3x a day
      -DOE air purifiers are NOT HEPA and they are LOUD

      If you want your child in school, then you may choose that option. But for families who don’t want their kids in school right now, they should have that option, too! Remote worked for some families….Who are we to tell them that their child suffered “learning loss”? Let families decide – give them the option!

    15. Sandi Kaplan says:

      Remote learning should be an option for those who want it. However because a handful of parents sued the NYC DOE because their child was learning remotely and the parent felt it was inadequate education now we are all forced to be in person regardless of the health risks. What you need to do is make a lot of noise call your assembly members, school council. Senators office this needs to be about the health an overall well-being of community not just school funding. Perhaps a class action lawsuit because remote learning should be an option for those parents who deem it appropriate for the health of their families. The Mayor says students weren’t learning appropriately via remote. But remote leanering is now only appropriate ways to learn for snow days and such days as election day.

      • This Too Shall Pass says:

        I already contacted our area council member 2 weeks ago to advocate. I was told that our councilman already signed a letter with a couple of other members to support a remote learning option.
        It seems like the pleas are falling on deaf ears, namely Bill De Blasio’s and Meisha Porter’s.

        If this whole thing blow up, schools could be to Deblasio what nursing homes were to Cuomo.

        De Blasio has time and time again repeated his confidence in school safety touting last school year’s limited transmission at schools.

        He refuses to acknowledge that we’re in a completely different inning of the game.
        Last school year we didn’t have Delta and in most schools, due to hybrid, they only had 1/3 of the kids in person on one day. He’s comparing oranges to poisoned apples.

        I’m not sure if the only way to alter the course we’re on is if someone sues for a remote option, the way the other side sues for fully in-school.