A first day of school unlike any other: students reporting to their laptops instead of their classrooms. Meanwhile, many of their parents were fuming following revelations their kids will get much less live instruction than they expected.
"When the information dropped our jaws dropped,” Deborah Alexander, co-president of the Community Education Council for District 30 in Queens, an advisory group of parents, said.
The city Education Department initially promised that students opting to alternate between attending school and learning online from home -- a plan called blended learning -- would get some amount of live interaction with their teachers every day they studied remotely.
But Tuesday night, as first reported by NY1, the department quietly walked back that promise, informing principals that schools were no longer required to offer any live remote teaching to those students if they didn’t have enough staff to do so.
"Who makes an announcement at 9:30 at night, right?" asked Adriana Aviles, president of the Community Education Council in District 26 in Queens.
Aviles enrolled her children in blended learning. Because of how it is being implemented at their school, her kids are supposed to be in classrooms just five days this month. She is hopeful her school will be able to continue offering live instruction on the days her children are remote.
But at many schools around the city, the new, relaxed rules mean students may go days at a time without real-time interaction with teachers.
"It’s a bait and switch, I don’t even know what to call it anymore. I think it’s just a disaster,” Aviles said.
The Education Department is imposing the new rules to ease a shortage of teachers to staff remote and in-person learning simultaneously. Although they appeared together at a news conference Wednesday morning, Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza didn't even mention the massive change until pressed by a reporter.
"We're going to be transparent with families and let them know that this will be, some of your education remotely will be asynchronous. And that can still be very rigorous assignments,” he said.
But parents like Deborah Alexander say the DOE has been anything but transparent and should have known they didn't have the staff for the plan to work long before the start of school. Instead, the change was announced hours before the school year.
"I hate to use the word lie because it’s extremely, it’s a charged word, but how do you feel it’s anything else when it is not my job to count teachers and children in a room it’s their job, but I counted and knew this could not happen, so they must have known,” she said. “The alternative to them not knowing is that they knew and they lied, or they didn’t know which means they're not all that good at their job.”
When her children logged on Wednesday to meet their classmates and teachers remotely, they were as happy as she had seen them since March.
"That live connection, even if it’s for an hour a day and even if it’s only over a computer, it’s everything to them,” she said.