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New York Students and Parents Want Outdoor Schooling Set Up in the City

Advocates of outdoor schooling say it is a chance for the city to right some wrongs with the inequitable effects of the coronavirus
An open air school in New York City around 1900. Photo: Library of Congress.

On Thursday, New York City students and parents rallied together at City Hall Park demanding the city offers outdoor schooling this school year, Gothamist reports.

A petition asking for schools to be given outdoor space and equipment such as tents has gathered more than 4,000 signatures, citing the city's effort to accommodate outdoor dining and saying students deserve those same efforts.

"Schools are hungry to use outdoor space so that their students and teachers can work together in ways that are safe, and enriching and healthy, and in some cases, even healing and inspiring," City Council Member Brad Lander said.

He said schools needed more than guidance, they needed equitable access to resources for outdoor schooling. Critics of outdoor schooling have said distractions like noise or bad weather threaten the system, but advocates argue those are minor hurdles that can be dealt with.

Lander said: "Some of you may have heard the mayor say sometimes it rains, and sometimes it does rain, but that wasn't a reason not to let restaurants use open streets."

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have announced plans for a blended learning model, which includes a mix of remote and in-person classes, with a fully-remote option. Of New York's 1 million public school children, around 700,000 are expected to attend school through the hybrid model.

"Education is a super important right," 11-year-old Raya Ferholt-Wirz told a crowd of 50 people outside City Hall.

"We live in New York. This is our life. We have noise around us all the time. We're still able to have conversations with our family and I feel like if it's a choice between outside distractions, and inside distractions while being remote, there are much more distractions remote," Ferholt-Wirz said, adding school was where young people went to socialize on top of learning.

"It's our whole life. It's what we do. It's really hard to not know what's going on, and if our city doesn't do a good job with this, everyone is going to remember."

However, the failure of many schools to meet health and safety requirements has raised alarm bells for students, parents and teachers over the safety of returning to classrooms. The head of the United Federation of Teachers has said teachers could strike if they felt conditions weren't safe.

On Wednesday, De Blasio said the city comment on outdoor learning in coming days.