As schools reopened for the new year on Monday, the city Department of Education has reported that over 100 buildings have closed as a result of positive Covid test results.
As of Sunday, 100 had closed for 14 days and another 30 closed for a 24-hour period, according to the DOE’s Covid case map. By Tuesday evening, 14-day closures increased to 103 and 24-hour shutdowns to 35. Of those, 41 schools are located in Queens. An interactive map accessible from schools.nyc.gov shows closures all over Queens from Whitestone to Rockaway.
The winter has brought a surge in cases and deaths from the virus in New York City. By Wednesday, the citywide Covid seven-day positivity rate rose to 9.25 percent.
According to guidance that the state created over the summer, a 9 percent seven-day average is the benchmark that would trigger a regional school system closure. But Gov. Cuomo walked that limit back at his Monday press conference when he said that for counties over the 9 percent positivity rate, it would be up to the school district to decide whether to close if it can show the school community’s Covid rate to be lower than the rest of the population.
In response to the city crossing the 9 percent threshold, the Solidarity Caucus of the United Federation of Teachers called on the DOE to follow through on the governor’s summer guidance and transition to fully remote learning for all NYC public schools. By Wednesday afternoon, over 5,000 people had signed a petition it circulated on the issue.
Many parents, however, believe that schools should remain open, arguing their low positivity rates prove that there is little communal spread, and thus safe for students. Jean Hahn, a Rego Park parent and administrator of the Queens Parents United group, told the Chronicle that she agreed that schools should stay open.
“The mayor has provided a choice [for parents]. The ones that are concerned about safety have the remote option. The ones that want to send their students to school are ones that need it. They are essential workers. They are working families — low-income — that can’t afford to lose their job and don’t want to be on welfare,” said Hahn.
She added that the DOE should be evaluating other criteria that were set over the summer to reflect the most up-to-date research about Covid transmission. A group calling itself #KeepNYCSchoolsOpen sent out a press release Monday morning echoing that idea.
It called on the mayor to revise the administration’s rule that two unlinked cases will require an entire building to shut down for 14 days, to take into consideration the size of the school.
The group argued that a substantial increase in school-based testing has made some of the closures unnecessary.
At a Monday morning press event, asked about schools that had switched to remote learning for two weeks following the holiday break in order to give students a chance to quarantine, Mayor de Blasio said that he believed it was the right decision to return to in-person learning Jan. 4.
“We’re confident based on the standards we put in place,” he said. He reiterated that of 100,000 students, teachers and staff who got tested across the entire school system since the early December reopening, the positivity level was 0.68 percent.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew raised concerns last week that the results of the school system’s testing efforts contain too many adults, and not enough students. He said the system would need more testing to open middle schools.
“More testing is only going to prove there’s less communal spread [in schools],” said Hahn.