After Mayor de Blasio outlined a set of safety protocols for the reopening of schools last week, parents and elected officials have raised concerns over testing and remote learning.
On Wednesday, the City Council held a hearing on the fall school reopening protocols, which will go into effect in less than two weeks on the first day of school Sept. 13.
In addition to providing a forum for a continued push by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Education Committee Chairman Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn) for a remote option, the hearing scrutinized testing protocols, which has been a subject of debate since the reopening last year.
Under the Department of Education’s plan, every school will test a sample of 10 percent of unvaccinated people twice a month. Students and staff who are fully vaccinated are not required to be tested.
But while last year the DOE required families to turn in consent forms allowing their children to be tested, this year it will not require parents to turn the forms in. Community Education Council 26 President Adriana Aviles told the Chronicle that her northeast Queens superintendent told her that the consent forms were no longer mandatory.
In the hearing, Treyger raised a concern shared by some principals that schools will test the same small group of children whose parents have submitted the forms every month.
City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi replied that he believes that the city will be able to accurately measure the prevalence of disease in the public school population through its approach.
Since the vaccine is still unavailable to children under 12, all elementary schoolers will be subjected to testing, pending the consent of their guardian. Only unvaccinated middle and high schoolers will be tested. After all teachers and school staff are vaccinated, as the city is requiring starting with one dose by Sept. 27, they will also be exempt from testing.
The DOE has set up an online portal for families to indicate whether students have been vaccinated, but is not able to require parents to upload this information.
During the hearing, Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) also raised concerns over Covid transmission within buses, whose drivers are not required to be vaccinated like indoor DOE staff.
With the announcement about the protocols, the city released a 13-page “Health and Safety” guide that details how schools will test and quarantine students and close classrooms or buildings during the first fully in-person school year since the coronavirus crisis began.
The guidance also includes separate protocols for elementary schools and middle and high schools.
After a positive case appears in an elementary school classroom, all students in the class will quarantine for 10 days and continue to receive remote instruction from their regular teacher while they do so.
A positive case in a middle or high school classroom will result in several scenarios. Students who are fully vaccinated but not showing symptoms will continue to attend school in-person. The DOE said those students will be encouraged to take a Covid test three to five days after exposure.
Those who are fully vaccinated with symptoms will have to quarantine for 10 days and will have access to remote learning while quarantining.
All unvaccinated students in a classroom with a positive case will have to quarantine for up to 10 days and continue their learning remotely. The fifth day of their quarantine, those students can take a Covid test, and with a negative result, return to school in-person after the seventh day.
A school will be closed if, after an investigation, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene finds there is widespread transmission in the building. At the hearing Wednesday, DOE officials clarified that the DOHMH staff conducting those investigations will have access to a city registry of vaccinations so that they can confirm which students have been vaccinated.
The DOHMH has also provided a list of 21 medical conditions that would authorize students to be able to receive home instruction.