Gone are the days of children waiting anxiously for officials to close schools after (and sometimes before) a snowstorm. New York’s Department of Education announced there will be no more snow days and students will be expected to participate in remote learning in the event of a weather emergency.
A result of COVID-19 stay home orders, public school students switched to remote learning after schools closed in 2020 to prevent the spread of the virus. The DOE distributed thousands of laptops and tablets for students to continue their education. Another change is on Election Day, when school buildings are closed due to them being used as voting sites, all students will participate in remote learning.
“In order to meet the New York State mandate of 180 in-session school days, rather than cut into spring break, religious observances, or the already short and much-needed summer, we will pivot to remote learning days during rare instances when schools close due to inclement weather,” the DOE said in statement. “We are sad for a year without snow days but we must meet the State mandate and we can leverage the technology we invested in during the pandemic so our students get the instructional days required by the State.”
On snow days that shut down the city this winter, both students who were back in the classroom for in-person learning and remote learners were required to do remote learning. Mayor Bill de Blasio said last October that snow days would be gone for good.
“Instead of the traditional snow day reality, we, you know, necessity became the mother of invention back in March,” de Blasio said in 2020. “And we had to create from scratch a fully remote capacity for our school system. So, we have that when we need to use it. And then, you know, if there were a blizzard, that’s what we would activate, and every student could participate.”
While the option for the DOE to switch students to remote learning at any time appears to be a permanent fixture, some students in the city still don’t have the technology to do so.
The New York State Education Department released the results of its fall Digital Equity Survey this month, which revealed that over 125,000 of New York City public school students were without a device to do remote learning at the start of the school year. The report also indicated that a student in a majority Black or Brown school district was three times more likely to not have a dedicated device.
One of the city’s hardest hit areas was the Bronx where out of 200,000 public school students in the borough, just under 85,000 devices were distributed by the DOE last October. In March of this year, many students were still without a device until Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz stepped in, with some help from community organizations, to give away 400 Chromebooks to students. This was an addition to the 400 he gave away in January.
“This information underscores just how vulnerable our public schools are after decades of under-funding and racial segregation,” said Johanna Miller, director of the Education Policy Center at the NYCLU. “Education leaders at every level need to examine this issue with their communities and construct solutions that will heal, restore, and compensate for the failure to reach so many kids during the pandemic.”
The DOE said that it purchased over 500,000 LTE-enabled iPads for students in need. Schools are also distributing devices they have purchased through their own budgets, including laptops and Chromebooks. If a school requests the DOE for a device for a student, an iPad is lent.
In addition, the Department said they have 35,000 iPads on reserve and continue to fulfill device requests as they receive them. Device requests are fulfilled using a combination of central iPads, school devices and hotspots, depending on a student’s needs. For example, some families have internet access at home and can be lent a laptop. Others who don’t have internet at home received an LTE-enabled iPad.
Schools buy devices for their students every year, including MacBooks and other laptops/tablets, and the majority of student devices in their system are school purchases.
“Students may continue using their DOE-issued devices at home through the summer and into next school year unless they are leaving the DOE, in which case schools will collect the devices from those students,” a DOE spokesperson said. “We continue to fulfill requests as they come in.”
According to a report released this week by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, over 470,000 city households have no broadband internet access, limiting remote learning for children.
Last week, the city announced it has executed license agreements with five internet service providers to offer free and low-cost high-speed internet access for up to 30,000 residents in 13 NYCHA developments as part of the city’s Internet Master Plan.