Treyger, Johnson seek new cap on NYC classroom capacity

Back To School
Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chancellor Richard Carranza and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dave Chokshi join school leadership at One World Middle School at Edenwald in the Bronx to welcome students back to school on Thursday, October 1, 2020 Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

City Council Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn) and Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) introduced a public health measure Thursday that would lower the maximum number of students in a classroom for the sake of providing greater ventilation.

The bill would raise the minimum per person classroom space to 35 square feet per student from the current 20 square feet for grades 1-12. That would make it equal to the same standard already in place for pre-K and kindergarten classrooms.

New York City public school classrooms vary in size, but according to Department of Education records, most regular classroom instruction takes place in rooms ranging from 500 to 750 square feet. Under the new guidelines, the maximum number of students in a 500-square-foot classroom would be 14, while the maximum number of students in a 750 square foot room would be 21.  

The more people there in a classroom, the higher the possibility of viral spread. By limiting class sizes, school ventilation systems will be more effective at moving fresh air through classrooms and other instructional spaces at the minimum recommended rate of 10-15 cubic feet per minute per classroom occupant.

“We are still facing a serious pandemic and there is an increasing possibility that COVID variants will be with us for years to come. To help make sure that public school classrooms remain safe places, we need stricter space limits for all students, not just the city’s youngest,” said Treyger.

The restrictions would also apply to non-classroom instructional spaces like counseling and pull-out rooms, along with larger areas like art studios, music and assembly rooms. 

“It is important for the NYC DOE to prevent viral spread while COVID-19 still exists. The incorporation of a smaller class size will ultimately benefit the future learning and health of all NYC school children. Due to overcrowding in many districts such as mine, this initiative will be challenging but also worthwhile.” said NYC Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm (D-Queens).

The legislation would mandate all schools in NYC to be compliant by September 2024, with 33% of schools compliant by the start of the 2022-2023 school year and 66% by the start of the 2023-2024 school year. The bill also requires the DOE to provide an annual report to track progress until 100% of city schools meet this new health and safety requirement by the start of the 2024-2025 school year. 


Mayor Bill de Blasio has already promised a full reopening of public schools across the City in September. There is no remote option for students. 

The legislation has been assigned to the Committee on Education and now awaits a hearing.