NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – More than a million students headed back to schools across New York City today.

The new school year brought new initiatives, along with criticism of some long-standing programs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza started the day with a ribbon-cutting at Richmond Pre-K Center on Staten Island. The new school is part of the mayor’s 3-K For All initiative that now boasts more than 17,000 students and, for the first time, is available in every borough.

“I’m a little more nervous, I think, than her,” parent Davina Chand said. “She’s been home for three years, so letting her go off, it’s like a big thing for me.”

Web Extra: Mayor, Schools Chancellor Hold Back-To-School News Conference

De Blasio said the expansion is a big step toward equity and school improvement.

“Early childhood education is a huge missing link, and just adding piece upon piece upon piece to the point that schools actually start to move,” he said in a news conference.

Also new this year: A partnership with the ride-sharing service VIA that will put a GPS in every school bus. At some point, it will even allow parents to track students’ buses using an app.

Late buses were already an issue on the first day.

Speaking of tracking, more speed cameras are being installed in school zones. By the end of the school year, 750 zones will have cameras.

The district is also considering the future of the “Gifted and Talented” program and the tests used for admission. Last month, a panel recommended placing a moratorium the program as part of a desegregation effort.

“We owe them the respect to really take a deep dive in what they’ve recommended and then have a public conversation about what’s the path forward,” said Carranza.

The mayor’s office said the program will stay intact this year.

“We should not be using a standardized test on four or five year olds, period. It’s inappropriate,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew added.

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Another concern is the safety of the district’s older schools. Earlier this week, the Department of Education announced lead paint remediation was complete in classrooms with children six years or younger.

In a last minute announcement, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said common areas, like cafeterias and libraries, would be next, but gave no timeline for completion.

“The guidance says that children, where they spend most of their time, which is in their classrooms. But we’re going above and beyond, we’re going into common spaces,” he said.

City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger said Carranza ignored repeated requests for lead testing in other areas, including bathrooms, gyms and auditoriums.

“He is in no position to diminish this threat, he has a very questionable record on lead in New York City. And after what we just endured with NYCHA, this is unacceptable,” said Treyger.

There will also be some changes to what’s on the lunch menu for students. This year, for the first time, all schools will adopt “meatless Mondays” in an effort to be more health-conscious.

Click here for back-to-school advice from parents and experts. Click here for more information from the mayor’s office.


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