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It’s a Day of Firsts in N.Y.C. Schools, and Here

It’s Monday. Today is the first day of school in New York City. And it’s the first day of our new format for New York Today, with a new look and …

It’s a Day of Firsts in N.Y.C. Schools, and Here

It’s Monday. Today is the first day of school in New York City. And it’s the first day of our new format for New York Today, with a new look and a new writer — me.

Actually, I’m not that new to New York or The Times. I’ve lived here under six — count ’em, six — mayors. I’ve worked for The Times since a week after I graduated from college. I spent a year in the Albany bureau and two as a national correspondent in Detroit.

I wrote the minute-by-minute stories on the 9/11 attacks in 2001 for and the lead stories on the Northeast blackout in 2003, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. I started the “Public Lives” column (later renamed “Boldface Names”), and I wrote the Coronavirus Update column for the print newspaper from March 2020 through Memorial Day of this year.

I’ve also written two books that grew out of Metro stories, and I was the editor of “The New York Times Book of New York” (2009).

If you’ve signed up for New York Today, you have a stake in New York, whether you live here or not. You love having a take on New York that’s authoritative and interesting.

You can tell me what you’d like to see here. Email us at [email protected]

And don’t worry. Metropolitan Diary is not going anywhere.

Credit…Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The first day back for city workers and students

Monday is the first day of full-time, in-person work for the entire city work force of about 300,000 people in more than a year. It’s also the first day of school here.

That vastly changed September ritual comes as families are struggling to make sense of an uncertain moment in the pandemic, with the contagious Delta variant still spreading and children younger than 12 still not eligible for vaccines. I turned for answers to my colleague Eliza Shapiro, who covers education for the Metro desk.

What issues will the city have to contend with as its school safety plan is put to the test? What should parents expect?

Just to take a step back, it’s really striking how it’s become clear that the city’s plans for back to school were forged in a time when it felt like Covid would be less of an active threat in all of our lives — a time when tons of New Yorkers were waiting in line to get their shots and the case numbers were plummeting. That was in May.

Now we’re obviously in a very different situation, so schools will feel different than they did last year.

Last year, we saw many schools that were half empty, and kids were easily six feet apart. Social distancing was not a major issue. Now, ostensibly, every kid will be back. That’s a million kids, 600,000 more than last year.

Also, the C.D.C. guidance is now three feet apart rather than six.

My understanding is that the vast majority of schools have found ways to separate kids by three feet, but some have not. In those places, there will be extra air purifiers or outdoor lunches or staggered start times.

Once again, it sounds as if there could be disruptions along the way.

It’s hard to predict how the beginning of any school year will go, but I do think it will be a major adjustment for everyone involved, just to have that many more kids back.

What about testing for Covid-19 outbreaks?

The city has shrunk the testing program, so even though there will be more children back, the city will test a random sample of kids only every other week, rather than weekly.

Many parents I’ve spoken to and many experts I’ve spoken to would like to see more testing in the hope that testing would catch outbreaks before they get really big. That is an issue I think the city is going to have to contend with. Officials may have to ramp up the testing.

Beyond that, school for vaccinated students has the potential to be much more normal than school for unvaccinated students. If you are a vaccinated middle or high school student, you won’t be subject to the every-other-week testing and you won’t have to quarantine even if you’ve had an exposure, as long as you’re asymptomatic.

Last week the Los Angeles school district became the first in the nation to approve a vaccine mandate for in-person students 12 and older. Why has Mayor Bill de Blasio flatly ruled that out here?

Los Angeles has a remote option, so families that don’t want their children vaccinated can switch to remote learning. New York does not have that option this year.

I think the number of parents who want a remote option here has grown. I would also say that more parents are eager to get their kids back to school. So I think it is possible that if things go really south, the city may have no choice but to reinstate remote.


Enjoy the mostly sunny day in the mid-80s, New York. But be ready in the evening: There could be another round of showers, even thunderstorms.

The latest New York news

  • A 1-year-old was killed in the Bronx, and the police arrested his mother’s boyfriend.

  • In the wake of nationwide protests, corporate America pledged to fight racism and support Black Americans. But a similar decades-old initiative in Rochester shows it is a promise that is difficult to sustain.

In the corner of your screen, signing on

Credit…Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Arkady Belozovsky appeared on television more than 100 times without meeting the man he was next to on the screen. Nor has he met the woman who replaced that man last month.

Belozovsky, 47, is the animated, round-faced interpreter who translated Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s coronavirus briefings into American Sign Language last year. Spelling out words with his fingers or pumping the air, Belozovsky became as much a fixture of Cuomo’s briefings as the PowerPoint slides.

Now he has become the most visible holdover since Gov. Kathy Hochul replaced Cuomo.

For viewers who could hear Cuomo’s briefings, Belozovsky — the man in the corner of the screen with that impish, knowing look — somehow leavened the relentlessly grim news. If Cuomo scowled, so did Belozovsky. If he shifted his shoulders, so did Belozovsky.

None of it was editorializing. “I cannot do that,” he said, “and that’s not what it is. The facial expressions conveyed grammar — and, he said, tone. “The deaf person doesn’t hear the tone, he sees the tone,” he said.

Most viewers met Belozovsky after four A.S.L. users and the advocacy group Disability Rights New York sued the Cuomo administration, which in the early weeks of the briefings sent the networks a video feed that did not show Belozovsky. The feed on the state’s website did. The network feed changed after Judge Valerie Caproni ruled in Federal District Court in Manhattan that deaf people had been effectively excluded from Cuomo’s briefings, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Being deaf himself, Belozovsky cannot hear the person he is signing for. He relies on “feed interpreters” who listen to the live audio and sign it to him. Working from a studio across the street from the State Capitol in Albany, he also watches the video.

Belozovsky had worked as a tightrope walker in the former Soviet Union — he emigrated from Ukraine as a teenager — and found signing for Cuomo to be its own kind of high-wire act. Cuomo did not use a script, leaving Belozovsky “flying blind,” he recalled. With Hochul, he has been learning to anticipate what she will say. “As an interpreter, you have to be able to,” he said.

When I asked if he had met Cuomo, he made a zero with one hand.

“It’s truly a disappointment,” he said. “Other states where the governors were doing their press conferences, they would recognize their interpreters.”


Winter walk

Dear Diary:

Very early one dreary, dark winter morning, my daughter, Sadie, and I were walking to her school.

From just behind me, Sadie asked if my heel was cold.

“No,” I said. “Why?”

“There’s a hole in your tights,” she said.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, we both heard a female voice asking whether I needed an extra pair of tights.

“What?” I said, turning to see the woman who had asked.

She pulled out three pairs of black tights and offered me one.

Shaking off my surprise, I accepted, thanked her and wore them the rest of the day.

— Jane Silverman

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Jeffrey Furticella, Rick Martinez and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today.



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