Original article written by Jessica Gold for WNYC
As of Wednesday, January 20th, 373 buildings that have been offering in-person instruction were closed because of COVID-19 cases. Of those schools, 92 were slated for 24-hour closures, and 281 were slated for 10-day closures, a reduction from the 14-day closure originally required. Additionally, 803 individual classrooms were closed. These numbers don't include middle and high schools, which have been closed since mid-November. For families who chose in-person learning, the individual closures add another layer of stress to a chaotic year that has also seen the whole system shut down last fall. “The mayor might be able to say that our schools are open, but they’re not open,” said parent Mia Eisner-Grynberg whose daughter has attended classes at her elementary school in person for just five days since mid-November.
Eisner-Grynber is with the group Keep NYC Schools Ope and was hopeful when de Blasio agreed to abandon the 3% citywide COVID positivity trigger for shutting all schools last month, and announced plans to reopen early childhood, elementary, and District 75 schools with additional testing. But those changes have not helped as much as some parents hoped, and they’re calling on the DOE to revise the policy that shuts down buildings for as few as two cases. According to a protocol developed by the city over the summer, a classroom closes when there’s a positive case. When two or more cases in separate classes are detected but don’t appear to be linked, the building closes for an investigation. Depending on the investigation’s findings, buildings can close for just 24 hours or for an “extended” closure, which is 10 days. Shutting schools allows contact tracers time to identify the extent of the spread and isolate infected staff and students.
At a news briefing on Tuesday, de Blasio said he understood that the closures were frustrating for parents but argued they’re necessary to prevent outbreaks.
The positive COVID testing rate in city schools, according to random testing, was less than half a percent. “We take a better safe than sorry approach here,” de Blasio said. “And that is what has kept our schools the safest in the country and the schools being the safest place to be in New York City. So, from a health and safety perspective, this approach is working.” de Blasio is hoping that as more teachers and staff get vaccinated, the cases and closures will subside. But some teachers said the crescendo of school closures this month shows that risk remains, and may even increase as a new variant of the virus takes root in New York. Teacher Sarah Allen was skeptical of reopening schools in September, but said she was ultimately glad to be teaching in person. She said it was better for her students and her children. But with new daily case counts over 3,000, she thinks in-person learning should go on pause until more teachers can be vaccinated. “I hate teaching at home, but I feel like it would be the safest decision,” she said.
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