Earlier this month, New York City officials set a minimum threshold for the city’s schools to open. They stated that only if the city’s daily COVID-19 infection rate remained at less than three percent over a rolling seven-day average would these reopen for in-person instruction.
As part of the announcement, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that should the three percent threshold be breached, public school buildings would close once again and switch to remote learning. De Blasio called it a very rigorous standard that would balance the importance of keeping everyone safe from the virus with that of getting students back to classrooms.
“The essence of this plan is safety for everyone,” de Blasio said during his daily news conference. “We are going to have an extremely rigorous plan for opening schools and, if necessary, closing schools.”
New York City’s current rate of positive coronavirus tests has been below the three percent threshold set by officials since June. Currently, only about one percent of those tested are found to be positive for COVID-19.
Prior to the city’s announcement, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated that schools in the district could reopen for in-person instruction if the region’s daily coronavirus infection rate averaged below five percent for 14 days. De Blasio, however, said that he set a tougher standard because of the city’s density, as well as its prior experience with the spring surge of the outbreak.
According to de Blasio, who says that he had worked on the plan with unions for teachers and principals, the tougher standard sends the message of “health and safety first.”
“We have a particular challenge here in New York City. We were the epicenter. There’s tremendous concern, tremendous trauma, that we’ve been through, and also the conditions of this city: We’re one of the most densely populated places in the country,” de Blasio stated.
“We’ve fought so hard to come back from this disease. We’re gonna be very cautious to not let there be a resurgence.”
Cuomo has said that he would reach a final decision on whether to reopen schools next week.
Prior to de Blasio announcing the threshold, city officials already detailed what conditions would force the temporary closure of a school building, should students or teachers get infected.
Under guidance laid out by the New York City Department of Education, should one or two linked cases be found among students or staff in the same classroom, then that classroom will close for 14 days.
If two students in different classrooms get the virus but have some link, such as using a locker room at the same time, then the school will have to switch to remote learning. (Related: Coronavirus-enforced remote schooling hurts America’s most vulnerable students.)
Furthermore, should two students in different classrooms get infected with the coronavirus due to circumstances outside of school, the school building will be closed while contact tracers investigate how widespread the infections have become. The school might be able to reopen after cleaning; however, the students and staff in the affected classroom, as well as their close contacts, will have to quarantine at home for 14 days.
Previously, de Blasio had said that the city would open its public schools in September with a “blended” learning model. This would allow some students to attend school in person for as little as two days a week, due to limited space and the need for students to practice social distancing.
Teachers and principals unions – the same ones de Blasio says he worked with for his plan – have questioned whether the city’s school buildings will be able to open safely in September.
“We have serious concerns about what has been communicated to school leaders so far regarding safety protocols and instructional designs as well as the city’s ability to provide schools with the necessary resources to implement their plan,” said Mark Cannizzaro, president of the union representing city principals, in an email to the Wall Street Journal Friday.
Meanwhile, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said that the new safety rules fell short, questioning whether they could be enforced effectively in every school.
“We need randomized testing of school communities throughout the year and a vigorous contact tracing system that gives schools test results and a course of action with a 24-hour turnaround,” he said.
Richard Carranza, Schools Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, addressed the concerns stating that school staff would be asked to take a coronavirus test in the days before school starts. In addition, they would have priority access to testing at no charge at 34 city-run testing sites, with a 24-hour turnaround time to get results. Some city educators, however, question if such rapid responses are feasible, after having experienced long waits to get results themselves.
Learn more about how the Wuhan coronavirus is affecting school at Pandemic.news.