A Bronx elementary school — P.S. 207 — closed its doors Thursday due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
School administrators said New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) directed them to close after detecting four or more cases in four separate classrooms within the last week. That’s according to a statement that was originally posted on the school’s website and later removed. The disclosure marks the first time in the 2020-2021 school year that officials have publicly described the specific criteria leading to a school shutdown.
“We are vigilant in practicing social distancing and mask wearing and following all COVID safety protocols,” read the statement, written by principal Tara O’Brien and assistant principals Leigh Betancourt and Lasheanma Santiago. The administrators cited transmission between siblings in different classrooms as a reason for the outbreak.
It’s the fourth public school shutdown so far this school year. Last year, schools shuttered whenever health officials determined that two cases were transmitted within the building. Later within the school year, that number increased to four. The policy changed ahead of the current term, and city officials have said that buildings will only be shut down if there’s evidence of “widespread transmission.” Health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi has previously described this scenario as “multiple sources of infection in multiple spaces or cohorts within a school” but didn’t list a specific number or rate of cases.
Asked about whether the criteria listed by the P.S. 207 administrators represents the citywide rule for closures, the DOE said it will continue to shutter only those schools which show evidence of “widespread transmission.”
"We do not hesitate to take action to keep school communities safe,” said DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer, citing the school’s low positivity rate in the city’s surveillance testing. “All staff at DOE are vaccinated and all students at P.S. 207 have access to a device to ensure live, continuous learning.”
DOE’s surveillance testing in schools is reporting a positivity rate — how many tests come back with an infection — that is three times lower than what health officials are measuring on average citywide for kids ages 5 to 18. Comparing these rates is tricky. The education department only tests kids who opted-in but are well enough to be in school, while the citywide rate reflects children getting tested after symptoms or an exposure. But regardless, kids ages 5 to 12 are also leading the city in weekly cases.
P.S. 207, located in the Kingsbridge neighborhood, serves approximately 400 students from Pre-K up through fifth grade, according to the most recent enrollment data provided by state officials. Safety rules listed by the city's educators union — United Federation of Teachers — offer what conditions might trigger a school-wide COVID-19 investigation:
- Schools with 200 students or fewer: at least four confirmed cases;
- Schools with between 201 and 1,000 students: confirmed cases of at least 2% of the enrolled student body;
- Schools with greater than 1,000 students: at least 20 confirmed cases.
All of those individual conditions must apply to the number of confirmed cases within the most recent seven days. P.S. 207 has recorded 12 cases since the first day of classes in September, and nine occurred over the last two weeks, meaning its recent COVID infections make up 2% of the student body. "If the results of the investigation determine that COVID-19 is spreading within the school, across multiple locations, the school will close for 10 days and move to remote instruction," the UFT guide states.
P.S. 207 also held a vaccine pop-up for students on November 10th, according to its Instagram account.
Students will learn remotely until December 13th, when the school is set to reopen. The school will also hold its second vaccination pop-up on that day, according to the education department.
The news comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in New York City schools. Over the last week, the education department has recorded an average of 257 new cases among students and staff at both public and charter schools. In total, 11,366 students and staff have received a positive test since classes began.
This story has been updated with details from the United Federation of Teachers.