For most NYC students, back to school but not the classroom

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Maria Flores kisses her son Pedro Garcia, 4, while a teacher takes his hand as he arrives for the first day of school at the Mosaic Pre-K Center in Queens, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in New York. The city public schools delayed reopening for two weeks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

NEW YORK – Monday’s return to New York City schools wasn't the one anyone planned for. For most, it wasn't a return at all.

Only pre-kindergarten and some special education students ended a six-month absence from school buildings after a last-minute decision to postpone, for the second time, plans to be among the first big districts to resume in-person instruction after the coronavirus forced students and staff home.

Mayor Bill de Blasio greeted pre-K students at a school in Queens and praised the “air of energy and spirit” among teachers and pupils. “To see those children so engaged, so happy to be there, it was truly inspiring,” de Blasio said.

In Manhattan, Alexandra Safir greeted her daughter, Harper, after the first day of in-school pre-K at P.S. 33. “The first day went really well today so I’m happy,” Safir said. Three-year-old Harper said she had a good first day but naptime presented one problem: “I couldn't sleep with my mask on.”

Schoolchildren in kindergarten through 12th grade also started the new school year Monday, but fully remotely, the same way students in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and many of New York's other urban districts have.

After a fidgety spring of online pre-K, Jessica D’Amato’s 5-year-old son has been so excited about going back to in-person school that he keeps asking: “When am I going to kindergarten?”

First the answer was Sept. 10. Then it was Monday. Now it’s Sept. 29, much to the family’s frustration. High school students return Oct. 1.

“I think that all the students are really, really at a disservice right now — because of the uncertainty, because of the lack of in-person instruction,” said D’Amato, 35, a public relations manager who lives in Brooklyn.