It could be a rough road this year for some city kids.
More than 300 schools will feature outdoor learning this upcoming year — with some setting up improvised classrooms in the middle of closed off streets.
City Council members Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca held an outdoor learning demonstration outside P.S. 15 in Red Hook Wednesday where tots sat in a shuttered roadway surrounded by parked cards and residential houses.
They were buffered from New York City asphalt by modest square cushions as a teacher delivered a lesson underneath a tent on Sullivan Street.
Backers of outdoor learning have argued that expanding instruction outdoors will relieve space restrictions imposed by social distancing requirements.
“Many schools are eager to use outdoor space so that students and teachers can work together in ways that are safe, enriching, and even healing and inspiring this fall,” Lander said in a statement. “Outdoor learning can and should be part of the toolbox of options for schools as they plan to bring students and teachers together, and we have to work together to make sure that it is an option available to all schools equitably, regardless of the size of their PTA coffers or their location.”
Lander and others have lamented the fact that schools with superior facilities in more affluent neighborhoods will enjoy greater outdoor learning options this year.
The Department of Education has stressed that individual principals request al fresco instruction voluntarily and are under no obligation to do so.
Schools have been presenting outdoor learning plans to the DOE and roughly 300 have been approved thus far, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
While many are simply using existing playgrounds or proximate parks, others are having to opt for less hospitable environments.
School safety agent union chief Greg Floyd has questioned the wisdom of outdoor learning given the rise in crime across the city in recent months.
“How can they protect the children in the outdoors without the physical structure of a building?” he said Wednesday. “You have violence, the homeless, gangs. How do you prevent all that from coming into a tent? The streets of New York City are just not safe enough to have outdoor learning. It might work in some neighborhoods, but not others.”
Asked about these security concerns Wednesday, de Blasio emphasized that principals know their environments best and are making appropriate decisions.
“There’s no question in my mind that a principal would only apply for something if it’s safe.” he said at an event at P.S. 59 in Bed-Stuy. “Lord knows they don’t have to. It’s their choice.”
De Blasio said schools routinely hold activities outdoors and are able to ensure safety.
“Listen to the places I said might be used – courtyards, playgrounds, school sports fields,” he said. “Kids are using those in any year and they’re kept safe. And school safety plays a role in that. We’re not doing anything here that hasn’t been done on a regular basis by New York City schools. It’s just being made more systematic because we’re addressing the coronavirus for this year only.
“Building instruction is scheduled to begin on September 21.