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.

A website banner announcing a school closure.

The school's website linked to the closure announcement.

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The school's website linked to the closure announcement.
P.S. 207
A typed notice on a PowerPoint slide. It reads: Good Evening PS 207 Families, According to the New York Times, "Tracking Coronavirus in NYC" site, as of November 30, 2021: The daily average of new reported cases in NYC: 1,459 The 14-DAY CHANGE in NYC: +24% (increase) With this in mind, we received the following directive from the NYC Department of Education Situation Room Senior Admin this evening, and we are dishearteningly reporting the following news to our students and families: "NYC DOE has directed that 10x207 close starting Thursday, December 2, 2021 and reopen on Monday, December 13, 2021, due to four or more confirmed cases in four different classrooms within seven days." As you know, at PS 207, SAFETY is one of our ROCKS values. We are vigilant in practicing social distancing and mask wearing and following all COVID safety protocols, however, the fact that we have siblings across classrooms and grade levels, which has clearly impacted the number of cases across our building. Again, reporting this is extremely disheartening, as we want to be in the building with our students each and every day. Though we are not in the building physically, we are ready for online learning tomorrow. We will be reaching out to you this evening with a schedule for learning, a schedule for retrieval of devices and materials (if necessary), and login information for Google Classrooms. Students are expected to log on by 8:30 am each day ready to learn. Please know that we realize how difficult this news is for many of you, and we want you to know, as always, if you have any questions or need support, please reach out anytime. In collaboration, Ms OBrien, Ms. Betancourt & Ms. Santiago

A notice informing parents of the closure of P.S. 207 in the Bronx was posted on the school's website on Wednesday, December 1st.

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A notice informing parents of the closure of P.S. 207 in the Bronx was posted on the school's website on Wednesday, December 1st.
P.S. 207

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.

An Instagram post advertising a vaccine clinic at P.S. 207

P.S. 207 held a pop-up vaccine clinic in November. The second clinic has been rescheduled for December 13th.

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P.S. 207 held a pop-up vaccine clinic in November. The second clinic has been rescheduled for December 13th.
P.S. 207 Instagram

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.