The New York City Department of Education said it is ramping up safety measures ahead of the public schools’ midwinter break.
Officials said the city will increase testing starting next Monday to reach 10% of 1st through 12th graders, up to a cap of 250 students or 20 % of the school’s unvaccinated population – whichever is larger – and 10 % of interested staff.
The move marks another expansion in testing, though it falls short of some educators’ and parents’ requests for more widespread surveillance of the virus in schools.
In December, as the omicron surge was ramping up, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio and incoming Mayor Eric Adams promised to “double” testing in city schools after the holidays, including vaccinated students for the first time.
While the numbers ticked up, many educators reported that far fewer students were being tested than they expected.
Epidemiologists have consistently criticized the school system’s decision to have families proactively opt-in to the testing program through consent forms, which they say skews the data on spread.
Education department officials said the goal of the new policy is to reach a greater number of students in the weeks before and after February break.
Additionally, state and city officials have promised to make home tests available to families ahead of the vacation. Last week, after Governor Kathy Hochul’s promise to send rapid test kits to all kindergarten through 12th grade students, the city said it will also be providing home tests to students in 3k and pre-k.
Officials said “families are strongly encouraged” to take the tests before returning to school on February 28th.
“Expanding in-school testing and at-home rapid tests will ensure every student is ready to safely attend instruction in-person after Midwinter Break,” said education department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer.
According to Styer, since a high of more than 14,000 COVID-19 cases reported on January 10th, cases have dropped 95%, and daily attendance rates have increased more than 20%.
On January 31st, the city recorded 810 cases in schools. Attendance was 79.72% on Monday, the day before Lunar New Year, which some families have made into a long weekend.
As part of the new guidance, the city also announced another update to attendance policies: starting Wednesday, students who are not sick or in quarantine will only be marked present if they attend in-person school.
A few weeks ago – near the height of the omicron surge and as many students were staying home out of caution – the education department tweaked policies to give educators “discretion” about whether to offer students assignments and mark them present even if they weren’t sick or in quarantine.