When Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city Department of Education announced Wednesday the city’s school reopening plan combining part-time in-person school with remote learning, one major question was left unanswered — what happens if someone in the school community tests positive for COVID-19?
Turns out, the DOE says it’s too early to have a plan in place yet.
Reached for comment, DOE spokesperson Miranda Barbot said that school authorities are working closely on testing protocols with city health officials and members of its test and trace operation, along with the teachers' union partners.
She said a definitive plan will be shared closer to September "when we have a clearer sense of the public health landscape and the necessary precautions."
However, Barbot said that each school site will be required to have isolation rooms where students who present with symptoms can go along with a school staff member while their parents are notified.
She said the school community will be informed about every positive case.
“We will always put the health and safety of our students and staff first and we will follow the guidance of health experts as we develop procedures,” Barbot added.
The lack of details in the school reopening plan has frustrated some parents -- one working mother who called into the Brian Lehrer show Thursday said that she was "shocked and troubled at the mismanagement" of the school system. "This administration, the mayor and the chancellor are setting back working parents of all different income classes and ethnic backgrounds," said Hoda, a Manhattan resident with two children.
As the coronavirus pandemic began spreading in New York City and school buildings were closed on March 16th, the DOE faced criticism that it was too slow and inconsistent in responding to reports of cases in school communities. At the time, the DOE’s general response to reported cases involved closing the affected school for 24 hours for a deep cleaning and notifying the relevant schoolmembers.
The DOE also released an internal memo advising school officials that teacher and staff cases should not be reported to the Department of Health, the CITY reported, leading to an inquiry by the Special Commissioner for Investigations for city schools on whether the DOE’s policies led to further spread of COVID-19 in schools.
Chancellor Richard Carranza said Wednesday that the reopening plan calls for every school “to be deep cleaned on a nightly basis with electrostatic disinfectant sprayers, and HVAC systems are being upgraded as we speak to ensure better ventilation in all of our schools.” The DOE did not respond to a request Thursday for further details on what schools will do with if a COVID-19 diagnosis is reported.
The DOE also said they’re working on how to transport students and teachers to school safely, and that students with special needs who will attend in-person classes will be bused and transported through partnerships with the MTA and the Taxi & Limousine Commission.
“We are currently assessing ways to provide safe transportation options this fall and will have updates as soon as they are available. Our priority will be to provide busing to students with IEP mandates for transportation and we are working to develop alternatives in partnerships with the MTA and TLC,” Barbot said.
While childcare enrollment remains limited by state-mandated social distancing policies, the DOE also said the Regional Enrichment Centers that were launched to provide childcare for the families of essential workers will close once school resumes.
“We are not planning to continue RECs once in-person school resumes and we’re exploring childcare options with city agency partners and business leaders. We’re hearing from parents loud and clear on this issue and are working through solutions,” Barbot said.