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NYC public schools revise remote learning policy after advocates ask state to intervene

Students in a NYC public school.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Jackie Sato (L), a teacher at Yung Wing School P.S. 124, teaches blended learning students during the first day back to school on Dec. 7, 2020 at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

New York City’s public school system has quietly overhauled its remote learning policy, which an education advocacy group warned could force students into online classes without parental consent.

The guidelines sparked concern after the Department of Education recommended in May that principals could use virtual courses to reduce the amount of physical space necessary to meet the state’s class size law.

Last month, parents and the group Class Size Matters to the New York State Education Department to force the city to make revisions. While Commissioner Betty Rosa has yet to weigh in, local education officials preempted any possible order.

“This is a big win for parent rights to ensure their children’s education is not fundamentally degraded by the forced imposition of online learning and will provide critical guardrails against the DOE’s reckless push to expand it,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters.

Under the city’s former policy, schools had to get parental consent via an “opt-in” form for students to take virtual courses. It said administrators should make “every effort” to engage parents — but if they did not respond by the first day of school, students could stay in the online class as administrators continued to reach out.

The revised guidance clearly states: “Students must not participate in the virtual/blended courses without a parent opt-in form.”

“This is in line with our policies,” said Nathaniel Styer, press secretary for the public schools. “We’re not forcing anyone to take a virtual class if they don’t want to.”

The 2022 state law backed by Class Size Matters caps classrooms between 20 to 25 students, depending on their grade level. The legislation is currently being phased in and requires 40% of classrooms to comply by September.

While most schools should fit in their existing buildings, about are expected to need extra space to comply with the law, say city education officials.

Haimson said she and the parents would continue to push for a settlement agreement in writing and other demands in the appeal, including extra protections for students with disabilities or without the proper equipment and online access at home. Parents should also have the right to revoke consent, getting their children pulled out of the course if they are struggling, she said.

“NYC parents will not accept the automation of our children’s education,” Brooklyn parent Tia Schellstede said in a statement. “Learning is a fundamentally human process.”

A spokesman for the state Education Department confirmed it received the appeal and it remains pending. Local education officials have until early August to submit a response.

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