New York City’s long and winding school year ends on a full day for most students

Next year, students will get back an hour of the school day, marking a return to six hours and 20 minutes

Students at P.S. 89 in Brooklyn await their families at the end of the school day during the last week of New York City’s 2020-2021 school year.
Students at P.S. 89 in Brooklyn await their families at the end of the school day during the last week of New York City’s 2020-2021 school year. (José A. Alvarado Jr. for Chalkbeat)

The year is ending the way it started: with confusion. 

Friday marks the end of this year’s wild ride of a school year for the nation’s largest system, and unlike previous years, it will be a “full” day of school, rather than a half day, education department officials confirmed this week. 

Several educators and families were caught off guard that it would not be a half day as in years past, only learning this week of the schedule. The official school calendar did not say “early dismissal” as it typically does. Many schools, however, may be doing their own thing despite the official schedule. Some parents said their schools were doing a half day regardless. Others said their schools were giving families the option to pull their children early on the last day. 

“We are ending the year strong with a full day of instruction and we look forward to seeing our students on Friday for one last time before the summer,” said education department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer. 

Reminders about the calendar were sent to schools on April 23 and again on Tuesday, education officials said. For schools administering Regents exams on Friday, some students in grades 7-12 may go home early or not go in at all because of testing, officials added. 

The school year has been marked by last-minute decisions, including two delayed starts, a mid-year systemwide shutdown of buildings, and a roller coaster of classroom and campus openings and closings due to positive COVID cases

Next year’s last day of school — which is on Monday, June 27 — will also be a full day. Though next year the definition of a “full” day reverts back to pre-pandemic hours for students. Instead of this year’s five hours and 20 minutes, students will attend for six hours and 20 minutes, education department officials confirmed. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio likes to boast that he achieved something few others were able to do: He pushed to reopen buildings when other cities kept them closed. While that was true, the reality on the ground was more complicated. 

More than half of New York City students remained fully remote. The rest started out the year hybrid, meaning they attended in-person one to three days a week, while learning from home the rest of the time. In November, all buildings shut down amid rising COVID cases. Elementary school children returned a couple of weeks later, but middle and high school students remained fully remote for months. When many of these students returned to school buildings, they were still doing “Zoom in a room,” learning remotely from classrooms, or even hallways, instead of interacting with teachers in the building. 

By the end of the year, most in-person elementary school students were able to attend five days a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced social distancing measures for younger children from six feet to three feet. Some schools, however, still struggled with figuring out logistics for lunch, which still requires that children sit six feet apart. 

Next year, when all students are required to be back in their buildings, the education department said roughly 10% of schools won’t be able to fit all of their students under the 3-foot rule, but they promised to get creative and use spaces like gyms, auditoriums, and possibly even those of nearby nonprofits to figure it out. 

The city is expected to devote $500 million next year to helping children catch up academically, targeting those funds for assessments to understand the needs, tutoring and targeted remote learning after school hours, the mayor has said. 

“We are now deeply in the recovery phase,” de Blasio said earlier this month. “We’re about to reopen our school’s full strength, no remote, and with a massive need to close the COVID achievement gap.”

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