Two New York City Council Members are using current social distancing policies to push for a permanent student cap in classrooms.
New York City Council Member Mark Treyger and Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced a bill 2374-2021 that would update the city’s administrative code, and raise the minimum per classroom space for a person.
Looking to the not-so-distant future, the bill’s goal is to eventually reduce classroom size to, at maximum, 21 kids in a three-year span. The bill states that, if approved and written into law, all classrooms would have a cap of 21 kids by the start of the 2024-25 school year. The New York City Department of Education must provide annual reports to check in on the progress.
“There are many reasons to support smaller classes, and health concerns are the most immediate,” stated United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “Making sure that we are not cramming too many children into each classroom is an important step to reassuring parents that we have learned from this pandemic, that it is not business as usual.”
The issue of classroom size isn’t new. Pre-pandemic, teachers and educators pushed for smaller class sizes and didn’t make any ground until the pandemic hit and made it a question of life and death. Currently, Treyger and Johnson are looking to legally dance around the city’s occupancy rules for all buildings. Classroom caps also apply to art and music studios within the school.
New York City Council Member Danny Dromm said that a cap on classroom sizes is the best way to keep children and faculty safe.
“It is important for the NYC DOE to prevent viral spread while COVID-19 still exists,” said Dromm. “The incorporation of a smaller class size will ultimately benefit the future learning and health of all NYC school children. Due to overcrowding in many districts such as mine, this initiative will be challenging but also worthwhile. I look forward to passing this legislation.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, from kindergarten through 5th grade, all student desks will be three feet apart assuming there’s a universal mask policy for the school. For middle school and high school students, if masking is universal, they should be three feet apart in areas with low to moderate COVID transmission rates.
When it comes to high transmission area, middle schoolers and high schoolers must be separated by six-feet because, according to the CDC, “COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students,” which gives them a better chance at being exposed to the virus.
New York Council Member and Education Chair Mary Treyger stated that the city, and the world at large, aren’t out of the global pandemic so these actions are necessary.
“We are still facing a serious pandemic and there is an increasing possibility that COVID variants will be with us for years to come. To help make sure that public school classrooms remain safe places, we need stricter space limits for all students, not just the city’s youngest,” Councilmember Treyger said. “The world has forever changed because of this pandemic and there’s no going back. We need to ensure our city’s building occupancy codes are up to date with modern science and public health data. The city is in receipt of significant federal and state resources to make this phased-in plan a reality.”
This is part of an $18 million initiative designed to lower teacher-student ratio. Another component of the initiative includes hiring more teachers in order to reduce class size in areas where classroom sizes are larger than the city average and test scores in math and reading are the lowest.
When asked about the battle for space in city schools, de Blasio said that officials will find a way.
“So, one of the things that’s in the budget is a focus on putting additional teachers in classrooms at our youngest grades in schools that need it most particularly to help us intensify our literacy efforts,” said de Blasio to reporters. “But in terms of physical space, the message to all schools is use space, use whatever space you need in different ways to make sure we can provide the right kind of spacing and safety. And we saw schools do a great job with that before last year. And I’m certain there’ll be able to do it again”
The mayor has gone on record saying there is no plan B.