How NYC schools will handle positive COVID-19 cases

Dive Brief:

  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and health experts Friday announced details of the city’s fall reopening plan. Included in the rigorous conditions for in-person instruction are a system of routinely testing school community members and steps for positive cases.
  • All school community members will receive free testing, with school-based staff prioritized at testing centers and able to receive results within 24 hours. Teachers will also be encouraged to receive monthly testing. 
  • Additionally, the city put in place a tracing operation for when a case  which can be reported by a teacher, parent or student  is confirmed: 
    • All positive cases must be confirmed by lab testing.
    • A student or staff member showing symptoms must stay home or be sent home even before a case is confirmed by testing.
    • Once a positive case is tested and identified, everyone in the classroom (including teachers) must quarantine for 14 days after the confirmation.
    • The city’s health department, along with other health and safety partners, will investigate others outside the immediate classroom who, during a 24-hour period, may have come in contact with the virus. If there is only one case in the school, the building will remain open. But if multiple cases are spread between classrooms, the school will close for two weeks, during which everyone is expected to quarantine.

Dive Insight:

While New York City will push forward with hybrid learning in the fall, schools will only reopen their doors if the city’s infection rate is below 3%  a “high standard” to meet, according to de Blasio, but one the city has met for six consecutive weeks since June 10. 

While both Carranza and de Blasio said the protocols put in place maximized safety, and that they were discussed at length with the district’s teacher union, they were immediately criticized by the United Federation of Teachers. Michael Mulgrew, the union’s president, said in a statement the standards were “not enough” and called for randomized testing of school communities throughout the year. 

And even if those additional safety precautions are put into place, Mulgrew said, teachers still have “grave concerns” about how effectively the district will be able to enforce them in every school. 

It’s important to note, however, the city is one of the few to implement such a low infection rate requirement for schools to reopen. It also remains on of the few major school systems to reopen with some degree of in-person instruction. Many others, such as Los Angeles Unified School District and Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, rolled back on reopening plans and announced an all-virtual start to the fall. 

But this variation in districts’ opening plans also reflects the local control many district leaders have sought in making fall plans. Recent federal pushes to reopen nationwide, as well as some state pushes, have been met with pushback and frustration from district leaders as well as teacher unions. 

Most recently, the American Federation of Teachers, the parent organization of the UFT, said it would support local strikes if schools reopened too soon and without meeting health and safety guidelines. Since then, strikes have taken place in New Jersey, where teachers gathered to protest Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to resume in-person instruction. 

But in other places that have seen only a handful of cases, such as rural areas, many schools are ready to reopen and remain largely unaffected by reopening debates.

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