Outdoor Learning Initiative 

The DOE is thrilled to announce the Outdoor Learning Initiative for the 2020–21 school year. This will be a city initiative that does the following:

  • Encourages schools to hold physical education (PE), dance, theater, chorus, and band classes outside if possible.
  • Conduct additional academic classes where space/logistics permit and the school has an interest in doing so.
  • School leaders & program directors should complete one or both of the following surveys based on outdoor space needs:
  • This program is open to public, charter, and private schools, as well as Learning Bridges. Schools in the 27 neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by COVID and schools with no outdoor space on-site will receive priority.

Graduation & End of Year Ceremonies

Requesting a Park Space

If you wish to request park space for a graduation ceremony, please visit the NYC Parks Special Event Application Request page and submit an application.

Due to the varying sizes and limitations of park sites, not all sites will be possible for outdoor graduations. Upon receipt or your application, NYC Parks will contact you with confirmation or will work with you to attempt to find a suitable location based on your needs.

*Please note, any requests involving use of furniture or special equipment on grounds will be evaluated based on the location being requested. Also, all Outdoor Graduations will be expected to follow all City and State health regulations as they pertain to the continuing mitigation of COVID-19.

Requesting a Street Space

If you wish to request street space for a graduation or end of year celebrations, please submit an application. Please note the following:

  • Graduation ceremonies must follow the same guidelines as Outdoor Learning – Streets (OL-S), with the exception that furniture (e.g., chairs, tents, stages, bleachers, etc.) is not allowed in the street and “No Parking” signage may not be used to ban parking during these events.
  • Graduation ceremonies may only take place within OL-S hours, weekdays from 7 am to 4 pm. 
  • Barricades must be present at both ends of the block and staffed at all times while the street is closed or in use by schools. 
  • Schools can apply to use the street for graduation or end-of-year events on a single day or multiple days. 
  • Applications for graduation events are due by April 30, 2021 and schools will receive a response to their application within 2 weeks to allow time to finalize plans.

For additional questions, contact OutdoorLearning@schools.nyc.gov

Cold Weather Guidance

Per DOHMH guidelines: In cold weather, students should still be allowed to play outside whenever possible. Unless it’s snowing, there is ice on the playground, or the wind-chill factor is below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius), schools should not prohibit outdoor play based on the outdoor temperature alone. On very cold days, families and school staff should make sure that students cover up the skin, wear warm clothing, and use several layers to stay warm. 

Programming Tools and Funding

Programming Tools

We've partnered with GrowNYC & the National Wildlife Federation (NYC) to offer academic resources for schools and remote activities for families and students to engage in outdoor learning curriculum. An Outdoor Learning Toolkit and rotating virtual workshops are available.

Funding Resources

Communications for Schools

Letter to Schools from the Division of School Climate and Wellness

Dear School Leaders: 

We are excited to announce our new Outdoor Learning initiative, co-authored by the Division of School Planning & Development (DPSD) and the Division of School Climate & Wellness (DSCW) for the 2020-2021 school year. 

The DOE encourages schools to hold physical education (PE), dance, theater, chorus, and band classes outside if possible. Schools may hold other classes outdoors as well. 

We invite you to tell us about your outdoor learning needs and to request the use of additional nearby spaces. Specifically, if your school has a schoolyard which you plan to use for outdoor classes, please indicate that on this form. If you are seeking space in a nearby public park or adjacent street, please provide the requested information and we will work to accommodate schools provided that the request is deemed safe and feasible.

This program is open to public, charter, and private schools, as well as Learning Bridges. Schools in the 27 neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by COVID and schools with no outdoor space on-site will receive priority.

Please note that filling out this form does not guarantee approval for public parks or adjacent streets, which is contingent on a review for safety and feasibility. DOE will respond to your request within a week of submission. In some cases, you may be asked to provide additional information or consider alternative options. 

Permission Slips for Schools to Send to Families

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Will schools/programs be provided with materials to conduct Outdoor Learning?

NYPD will provide barriers for schools approved for street closure.

School leaders/program directors are encouraged to maximize resources within their school buildings and learning facilities. PTA fundraising or applying for a School Wellness Grant are also two options. If you need further assistance in this area, reach out to the Outdoor Learning Initiative at OutdoorLearning@schools.nyc.gov

Please note that current DOE guidelines prohibit the use of shared equipment so each item would need to become part of an individual student’s kit or disinfected after each use.

How should schools/programs manage setup and break down of materials for Outdoor Learning?

School leaders/program directors should manage relationships and expectations with building staff to ensure programming needs are met.

Can schools approved to use parks and streets leave materials in that space for the next instructional day?

No. Materials must be removed from these locations once programming is completed for the time approved. No materials should be left in park or street space overnight. Street barriers should also be secured at the end of each day. 

Which Outdoor Learning spaces require permission slips?

Parents/guardians must grant permission for their child to participate in Outdoor Learning conducted on closed off-streets, or in park space. No permission slip is needed if the extent of a school/program’s Outdoor Learning programming will be in the school yard. Permission slip template found (attached). For translated permission slips in Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, or Urdu email: OutdoorLearning@schools.nyc.gov

What are the Community Notification requirements for an approved Street Closure?

Upon receipt of the approval, schools/programs using nearby streets for programming should send a letter or some form of formal notice to your surrounding neighborhood community, informing them of your school's approved street closure. You can find a template letter (attached). 

Can community gardens be approved spaces for Outdoor Learning?

Yes. If the space is private, a permit is not needed. In that case, school leaders/program directors should work directly with the garden entity to establish an agreement for collaboration. Permission slips will be necessary in this scenario.

Will our Outdoor Learning site be inspected?

The Department of Transportation will inspect street permit closures in accordance with the safety guidance accompanying permit approval. For more information on this guidance, visit DOT’s Outdoor Learning Page here.

The Department of Parks & Recreation will not inspect park permit sites on a regular basis. However, site visits may be conducted at the agency’s discretion. 

The Department of Education will not inspect Outdoor Learning conducted in school yards. School leaders/Principals are qualified and equipped to monitor and regulate all programming taking place on their campuses.

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