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“They need this,” he said of in-person instruction, “and it’s our obligation to give it to them.”

By Oct. 1, New York City had completed the reopening of all its public schools, with about half a million children expected to be welcomed back. But early polling showed that Black and Latino families were among those who were most wary of sending their children back to classrooms, and parents have expressed a number of reasons for starting the school year fully remote.

Some parents said they wanted to see how the first few weeks in classrooms went before making a final decision. Those whose children started the year remote-only have from next Monday until Nov. 15 to opt in to classroom learning for the school year, and their children would resume in-person classes on Nov. 30.

The mayor said he believes many more students will opt in, which some educators also expect. During his Monday news conference, Mr. de Blasio said the low in-person turnout needs to be “understood as a work in progress,” while emphasizing that “a lot more kids could be attending in person.”

But if that does not happen, it would both severely undercut his ambitious push to reopen and “raise lots of questions about whether it’s worth it to continue with this model,” my colleague Eliza Shapiro, who covers education, told me.

Three weeks into the in-person school year, data from the city’s first effort at targeted coronavirus testing at schools showed a small number of positive cases, easing fears that schools would become vectors of infection.

The mayor’s announcement that only about 26 percent of students have attended in-person classes, however, added new context to those results. “We need more information, more tests from more kids, to have a clearer sense of what transmission is like,” Ms. Shapiro said.

Still, emerging evidence suggests that schools across the country do not seem to be stoking community transmission of the virus.

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