New York City will increase testing of public-school students for Covid-19 to weekly from every other week, after 77 classrooms were closed and one school was shut down due to the virus.
At the same time, the city will relax its student quarantine rules, allowing continued attendance if students are masked and at least three feet from any infected individual. The new rules will take effect Sept. 27, the same day all teachers and school staff must show proof of vaccination. The teachers union, which had called for increased testing, applauded that move but criticized the mayor’s looser quarantine rules, calling them “ill-considered.”
“Maybe in the mayor’s universe, all children keep their distance, wear their masks correctly and leave them on all day, but in the real world of our schools, this just isn’t so, particularly in the many schools that are overcrowded,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in an email. “Children — particularly the youngest who are most vulnerable to the delta variant — need more protection than the mayor is offering.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has resisted calls from parents and City Council members to offer parallel online remote lessons for students forced to stay home, said that among middle and high school students, “the vaccinated kids who are not symptomatic will stay in school” while those who must go home will receive unspecified “alternative instruction.”
“We wanted to see what happened in the first week of school, came to the conclusion that to achieve both our goals — health and safety first and then keeping the maximum number of kids in school the right way — that these two actions would improve our situation,” de Blasio said during a Monday news briefing. “We saw enough quarantining that we thought this is something we want to get ahead of and make sure that only those who really need to quarantine are quarantining.”
Schools across the U.S. have grappled with the more transmissible delta variant. As of Sunday, more than 2,000 have been forced to close across 469 districts in 39 states, according to the Burbio tracker.
In New York, de Blasio’s changes followed pressure from Mulgrew to step up testing. The teachers union president said in a letter to the mayor Sunday that fewer than half of the city’s more than 1,800 schools had been tested during the first week of the school year.
“Because current testing is biweekly, hundreds of other schools will not get a visit from a testing team until the coming week,” Mulgrew said in the letter. “Meanwhile students in untested schools — including children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated — could be needlessly exposed to the virus.”
The city was forced to shut down P.S. 79, a special education school in Manhattan, because of the coronavirus. Citywide, 77 classrooms have been shuttered and 60 more were partially closed as of Sept. 19, according to the Education Department. Cumulatively, 445 classrooms have been shut and 326 incurred partial closures since schools opened Sept. 13, according to the department.