Coronavirus: UFT president fears New York schools will have to close buildings again

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STATEN ISLAND, NY – As the coronavirus (COVID-19) positivity rate in New York City climbs to 3% and Staten Island enters a “yellow zone,” the president of the New York teachers’ union says ‘he fears the closure of school buildings may come.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday declared Staten Island a “micro-cluster yellow zone” because the borough has a seven-day average positivity of over 2.5%, along with increases in its new rate of cases per 100,000 people and new daily hospitalizations.

Additionally, there has been a recent increase in cases in public schools, forcing dozens of district schools to temporarily close since the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Staten Island Public Schools recently reported the largest three-day increase in coronavirus cases since September.

“I am very concerned about the Staten Island schools right now, which is why it was automatically started that they are going to have a massive testing program inside Staten Island immediately, so you will see a lot more testing. at schools, ”said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). “But overall, the city’s rates are going up. And if this continues on this trend, I don’t know how many more days it will take before the city becomes completely isolated. Therefore, you know, it will affect all the schools in town, and Staten Island will obviously be included inside.

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Now in a yellow zone, both public and non-public schools on Staten Island can remain open for in-person learning, but must randomly test 20% of the school population each week for the virus. The Archdiocese of New York announced Wednesday that all Catholic elementary and secondary schools on Staten Island will switch to distance learning for the foreseeable future.

But if positivity rates don’t decline, Staten Island public schools will also have to close and move all students to distance education. The arrondissement could move into the “orange zone” if the average positivity rate over 7 days in the arrondissement goes from 2.5% to 3% for 10 days.

SCHOOL CLOSURE IN THE NEARBY CITY

And Mulgrew said if the citywide seven-day positivity rate continues to rise and reaches 3%, all schools will be forced to close and move students to distance learning.

“The city’s seven-day rate is increasing every day. It’s going up, so we’re getting very close to 3%. Then we’re going to walk away, ”Mulgrew said. Everyone needs to understand that we are working very hard to keep our schools open. We are the only major school system in the United States that is open. But if we cannot contain the spread in the community then the schools cannot stay open because then the schools themselves become part of the problem.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to start redoubling their efforts. We’ve done it before as a city, and we can do it again, but we just need to step up our efforts and be really careful – make sure we’re all on our masks and everyone is tested. Mulgrew added.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a press conference Thursday that he will enforce the school closure threshold if the city sees a 3% positivity rate over a seven-day average.

“The standard was proposed to really connect with the whole school community to tell parents and students, to tell educators and staff, that we would act very carefully to really protect our school communities so that people can come back with confidence, ”said de Blasio. “… We set a standard to tell everyone, we will support you, we will do it in a very rigorous way. We have to stick to that standard. ”

New York is bracing for that 3% positivity rate, the mayor said.

“It’s a rule that we publish very clearly, and if one day we see the morning, the indicators have come out and reach this level, we will move the next day and the schools would close,” added de Blasio.

CORONAVIRUS IN SCHOOLS

But despite high positivity rates on Staten Island and across the city, the positivity rate in New York City public schools has been low, according to data from the city’s Monthly Random Testing Program.

Only 0.17% of total coronavirus tests, or 174 out of 105,135 tests performed at public schools across the city in the past month under the program, were positive. On Staten Island, 12 of 5,851 tests, or 0.21%, performed in public schools were positive.

The UFT president attributed these low numbers to systems the union fought for – like the requirement for face masks, social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing, ventilation inspections, and more.

“We do everything that everyone in society is supposed to do if you listen to the doctors,” Mulgrew explained. “So it is happening in schools. But at the same time, the doctors told us that if this spread starts to spread within communities, it is only a matter of time before it spreads in schools… ”

This is because school communities are made up of several neighborhoods. Infection rates can spread from neighborhood to neighborhood via schools.

“The doctors were very clear that it was their fear of reopening the schools and we had to be very careful watching this,” Mulgrew said. “Your schools will always be safer than the community because you are going to follow all the rules, but if the community scattered around the school starts to go up, there is nothing sooner or later it will get into the school. and the school will affect other neighborhoods that are also connected to the school. “

LOOMS TIMELINE FOR OPT-IN TO MIXED LEARNING

And now, many families may be wondering whether they should continue to send their children to campus for in-person learning as part of the city’s blended learning model, while others with children. who are learning almost full-time may be grappling with the decision to participate. -people learning.

Under the blended learning model, students travel to campus for in-person learning a few days a week, and then remotely on the other days.

Mulgrew said there was confusion among some parents regarding the parameters of the blended learning model. If a child is a blended learner, he or she must attend campus on designated days.

“I think the mayor should have made it clear to everyone that as we go through these periods of accepting or withdrawing from live teaching, you have to understand that if you go for live teaching, your kid has to go to school, ”Mulgrew said.

“And now with what the city is facing and the numbers are rising, I don’t think it’s fair for parents to make that decision at this point,” he added.

Families have until Sunday to switch to blended learning as part of the city’s two-week acceptance period. For more information, visit schools.nyc.gov/returntoschool2020.

The first days of in-person instruction for new blended learners will take place during the weeks of November 30 and December 7. And that enrollment period might be the only chance this year for parents to bring their kids back to campus personal instruction.

“For now, we plan to have an acceptance period from November 2 to 15, and we will continue to monitor the ever-changing circumstances brought on by COVID-19,” according to the DOE.

It’s important to remember that the city’s DOE has said safety is the top priority when it comes to reopening schools – and that means tracking positive coronavirus cases in every building. And that careful monitoring can lead to preventive classroom closures, 24-hour building closings, or two-week closures to avoid a widespread epidemic on campus.

The DOE did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mulgrew’s concerns.

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