New York City Schools’ Strategy: Test More, but Keep Classrooms Open

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Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an easing of students’ weekly testing and quarantine rules, but continued to oppose compulsory vaccination of schoolchildren.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that New York City will take two new steps to allay fears of a full reopening of schools: requiring weekly coronavirus testing of unvaccinated students and placing more students in classes. Quarantine rules to be relaxed for


But the mayor resisted calls for a vaccine mandate for students, even as Pfizer-BioNtech moved to offer the vaccine to children ages 5 to 11.

The city’s latest policy changes are at the heart of Mr. de Blasio’s strategy for schools as a city, once the global epicenter of the pandemic, confronts the delta version of the coronavirus. New York City was the first major school system to reopen last year, and Mr. de Blasio is determined to keep as many students in classes as possible this school year.

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Mr. de Blasio believes schools are safe, that officials can isolate cases of the virus and that families will voluntarily choose to vaccinate their children. In many ways, he is jeopardizing his legacy on whether the majority of the city’s one million public school students return to classes and whether city officials can prevent the vast majority of those students and teachers from getting sick. .

Mr. de Blasio reiterated his concerns on Monday that a vaccine mandate for students, such as a plan in Los Angeles for students 12 and older, could prompt some families to keep their children at home . They have also refused to offer the option of distance education.

“I believe that basically the goal is to get our children into school for the foreseeable future,” Mr. de Blasio said. “The best way to do this is to welcome all children while working relentlessly to improve immunization levels.”

The mayor said more than 70 percent of students aged 12 to 17 had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Both the testing and quarantine rules reflect recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unvaccinated students would not have to quarantine as long as they were masked and kept three feet apart, after having close contact with a student who tested positive. The city previously required all unrelated close contacts of a student who tested positive to quarantine for 10 days, leading to frequent disruptions as classes were closed.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew praised the decision to increase testing but criticized the quarantine rules. He said it was unrealistic to assume that students were always properly wearing masks or were physically distancing themselves.

“Maybe in the mayor’s universe, all kids keep their distance, wear their masks correctly and leave them on all day, but in the real world of our schools, that’s not the case, especially in many schools that are overcrowded. ,” Mr Mulgrew said in a statement.

On Sunday, Mr Mulgrew called on Mr de Blasio to conduct weekly surveillance tests in schools, instead of the current policy of testing students every other week. The city will test 10 percent of non-vaccinated students who have signed a test consent form at each school each week.

The rules are set to take effect on September 27, the same day a vaccine mandate for teachers and other school staff is expected to take effect. Some health experts criticized the mayor’s plan, arguing that officials were not testing the school population enough and calling for rapid testing. Others commended the mayor for getting rid of the quarantine rules that felt arbitrary.

Elga Castro, a parent whose daughter attends an elementary school in Washington Heights, welcomed the rules and said she expects classes to be open and safe.

“What keeps classes closed are more quarantine rules than tests,” she said. “Every time my daughter’s school was closed, we would quarantine and test, and no one came back positive.”

Ms Castro, who is part of a group of parents who struggled to keep schools open, said she is looking forward to when young students are able to receive the vaccine.

“I am very happy to have my child vaccinated on the same day,” she said.

On the first day of school last week, the initial attendance rate was more than 82 percent – lower than in previous years. Before the pandemic, the first-day attendance rate was around 90 percent. Mr. de Blasio did not say how many students had returned and said the city would provide more complete data in the coming weeks.

There was a school, PS 79, in East Harlem. closed on monday And according to the city, 10 days had completely transitioned to distance learning covid-19 case map website. More than 400 classrooms were closed.

Annie Tan, a special-education teacher in Brooklyn, called the quarantine rules careless and said they could lead to a surge in cases. He said some parents may not feel comfortable sending students to school, as one of their classmates has tested positive for the virus.

“In terms of routine, of course, it’s more stable, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe,” she said.

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat with less than four months left in office, is the first mayor in decades whose children attended and graduated public schools, and his most popular achievement was universal preschool. He considers reopening schools important to address inequality and laments how poor families struggled most with distance learning during the pandemic.

He reiterated on Monday that the city would not offer the option of distance learning except for schools to close completely.

“The Chancellor and I basically believe that our children should be in school,” he said. “That’s why there isn’t a widespread remote option in place.”

School chancellor Misha Porter said that more than 78 percent of the employees of the education department were vaccinated. He said the city recently hired 5,200 new teachers and that no staff shortage is expected when the mandate begins next week.

“We gave more than 3,000 vaccines to students and staff on campus in the first few days of school,” she said. “We’re excited about that, and we think we’re headed in the right direction.”

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