NEW YORK CITY - New York City schools can launch outdoor learning next semester as the Department of Education grapples with reopening classrooms during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.
"We know outdoors is one of the things that works," de Blasio said. "It's gonna open a lot of opportunities."
School principals have until Friday to develop and submit outdoor learning plans, which must identify feasible streets, parks and playgrounds which can be used as classrooms while protecting students' and staff's safety, the mayor said.
DOE officials said the Friday deadline is not final. Principals will be able to send updated proposals on a rolling basis as the school year gets underway.
Lawmakers and teachers organizations criticized de Blasio for releasing his outdoor plan just 17 days before students are scheduled to return to school.
Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, criticized the late rollout of outdoor learning.
"Though the idea of outdoor learning has real merit," Cannizzaro said. "The city's plan will not be implemented nearly as well as it could have if the Mayor had simply given principals the time and support they need."
The United Federation of Teachers, the union of New York City educators which threatened last week to strike, did not appear appeased by de Blasio's outdoors announcement.
"The mayor's reopening plan continues to fall short, particularly in terms of necessary testing," President Michael Mulgrew said.
But de Blasio argued he had provided ample time to submit plans because principals have spent years organizing field trips and the summer looking for outdoor spaces.
"Principals have a lot of experience with outdoors," de Blasio said. "They're very resourceful."
City agencies, such as the Transportation and Parks departments, have been told to prioritize implementation of the plans, Chancellor Richard Carranza noted.
Neither de Blasio nor Carranza would clarify how much city funding would go into the plan but urged PTA boards in wealthier districts to donate money to help others buy necessary equipment, such as tents.
"A lot of what you need to do won't cost much at all," de Blasio said. "It's pretty simple."
This is a turnaround for de Blasio, who repeatedly argued this summer the invariability of city weather made outdoor learning impossible.
Lawmakers and teachers have been pressuring de Blasio for weeks to okay outdoor learning, and questions about childcare and ventilation remain.
Carranza declined Monday to specify what percentage of schools had addressed ventilation concerns but added city schools are comprised of hundreds of thousands of windows.
De Blasio promised working New York parents more information about city-sponsored childcare later this week.
"We are going to do a lot of hard work for our kids," de Blasio said. "We are going to invest in our children this fall."