NYC Education, Remote learning, financial aid
Mayor Bill de Blasio (right) and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (center) tour New Bridges Elementary in August to observe the school’s PPE delivery and reopening preparations. ED REED/MAYORAL PHOTOGRAPHY OFFICE

Parents across the city — that means you — are wondering: Should we start sending our little ones to school for hybrid instruction or keep them learning online from home? We don’t blame you: Everything constantly changes, and the clock is ticking: Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have set a limited window for opting into blended learning. You have between November 2 and November 15 to decide. That’s it.

It feels like an impossible situation, in part because parents may end up having to switch back to remote learning if there aren’t enough teachers to accommodate smaller COVID-era class sizes. And, as Chalkbeat New York reported, so far, only one quarter of the city’s students have shown up in person. Plus, de Blasio hasn’t changed the threshold for determining when to shut down the whole system. So, yes, you could say a lot is up in the crisp fall air.

There’s more info on the opt-in period here. And keep reading for some tips from a real live healthcare professional on how to make this choice.

NYC Education, Remote learning, financial aid
Mayor Bill de Blasio (right) and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (center) tour New Bridges Elementary in August to observe the school’s PPE delivery and reopening preparations. ED REED/MAYORAL PHOTOGRAPHY OFFICE

Back to the tips: what you need to know before deciding whether to choose in-person school We asked Donna Hallas, a clinical professor at NYU who directs the university’s Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program, how parents ought to navigate the fateful opt-in period. Here’s what she said. (The Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.)

The Unmuted: What do parents need to know before deciding whether or not to send their kids back to school IRL?

Donna Hallas: Across the country, we have seen schools open and then have to shut down for a short period of time or for the remainder of the year. Parents, teens, and young adults do not want this to happen to them, so they must assess what happened and how It can be avoided. Young adults need to know what assessments, planning, and safety factors have been put into place prior to the opening of the schools. 

Has the school been inspected by engineers with knowledge about ventilation, air filters, and ways to keep indoor air clean? Is a testing plan in place, for teachers and all school personnel and students? Will everyone be required to wear masks? Can social distancing be accomplished given the classroom space available? What is the infection rate in the community in which the children live and where the teachers and school personnel live? 

TU: What are the different safety factors at play?

DH: Clean filtered air and fresh outside air are a must for all classrooms and rooms that house students and teachers. Assessing students before they enter school on every day or on their designated days is essential. Apps have been developed for this purpose. Temperature taking at school is important.

What testing plans are in place? Everyone must wear a mask (teachers will benefit from them); face shields are advisable, too. Monitoring bathroom activities is important and bathroom cleanliness is a must. What plans are in place if a child becomes ill at school – how is the child kept in a safe environment away from other children? Is contact tracing available?

TU: What questions should families consider with regard to commuting?

DH: How does the child get to school? If it is school buses, how are they cleaning and sanitizing the buses? Who monitors the children and adolescents on the bus? Everyone on the bus must wear a mask. Who can assure that this standard is followed? 

Car pooling – many parents car pool their children to school. If parents plan to car pool, have they identified a ‘pod of parents’ who all agree to follow the same strict guidelines such as masks, avoiding crowds, no travel to hot spots, social distancing, and to have the children wear masks in the car and keep the air circulating?

The safest way to travel is for the parent to take the child to school, but that may not always be possible. 

TU: What is the best way for parents to consult their own medical professionals?

DH: Prior to returning to school, each student should have a routine visit with their physician or nurse practitioner. Any problems and plans to resolve the problem should be identified. All children should have all of their immunizations up to date and this year, the flu vaccine is critically important. 

Parents of children with chronic illnesses should speak with their physicians, nurse practitioners, and specialists about the decision for their child to return to school.

I co-authored an article about returning to school. You can read it here

Thinking about college? You need to apply to the FAFSA. Because $3 billion.

Just when you thought you’ve been bombarded enough with people telling you to vote (just do it, friends!!), we’re asking that you add another item to your to-do list. (Sorry not sorry.)

If you’re close to anyone at the front end of the college-application process, remind them to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Paperwork—aka the FAFSA. The form is scary — trust us, we were really bad at it, too. You may think you’re not eligible. But what if I told you that in 2015, students left nearly $3 billion on the table in college aid. 

The FAFSA application opened on October 1. Applications are rolling through the entire application season, but go ahead and get a jump on it. Start here. 

Oh, and guess what? You can get BONUS (‼️) money by applying for the FAFSA as a New York resident. Your application will be analyzed by state officials, who will decide whether you’re up for New York-specific aid, known as the TAP. Just click through to the TAP application at the end. FAQ here

What’s more, financial aid is also available for folks working through their immigration paperwork. That’s thanks to the Senator José Peralta New York DREAM Act. That application lives here. There are instructions in multiple languages, from Spanish to Korean.

Have questions about the financial aid process? Email us and we’ll try to get you some expert advice.

Remember what we told you about IEPs?

Last week, our Q&A featured the advocate Maggie Moroff, who said that the city must fulfill the services owed to students with disabilities — as laid out on a document known as their Individual Education Plan — no matter the circumstances.

Now, advocates, Moroff included, are saying that’s … not exactly happening. The city announced that students with IEPs who opt for blended learning and are in classes that integrate them with their general ed peers will only have one teacher on their online-learning days. A New York State law, though, requires that two teachers lead such courses. City officials say they’re not in the wrong because there’ll be more than one teacher on in-person days.

This content is run in collaboration with The Unmuted newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Epicenter-NYC is a weekly newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. We are written by the community, for the community. Sign up for weekly updates at

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