This is our recurring update following the reopening of NYC schools for Tuesday, January 5th, 2021.
Here's the latest:
Public schools that close because of COVID-19 cases in their immediate school population will now quarantine for ten days, instead of 14 days, the city Department of Education said Tuesday.
The reduced quarantine period follows guidance that the Centers for Disease Control issued in December that the city and state adopted.
“Rigorous weekly in-school testing and quarantines issued by the Situation Room work alongside universal use of face coverings, hand washing, and social distancing to keep our schools safe. The CDC as well as our State and City Health Departments recommended moving to a 10 day quarantine period and we are following suit,” said DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer in an email.
During the summer, the DOE had set protocols that dictated how schools will respond when COVID-19 cases in a school community are reported, ranging from one-day closures while cases are contact-traced, to 14-day building closures when there are two or more unrelated cases.
Currently only 3K, elementary schools and District 75 schools are open for in-person learning while middle and high schoolers are enrolled in remote learning only.
A group of parents who pressured the DOE to update its protocols with newer guidance so that more schools can stay open applauded the move -- while requesting further changes.
“We are pleased and encouraged to see the city begin to adapt its policies as our knowledge of COVID-19 has grown and changed. We are hopeful that the City will now turn its attention to the outdated 2 case/full-school-shutdown rule, which is causing our schools to close unnecessarily,” said parent Mia Eisner-Grynberg in an email statement. “Increased weekly testing of 20% of each school informs us of whether and where the virus has spread. Impacted classroom quarantines are a moderate approach that keep our schools open while keeping us safe.”
United Federation of Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said that while he understands the DOE is following medical guidance, he’s “not happy” about the change and the stress it will cause educators.
“Look, I'm a big believer in following the doctors, but I understand how this causes fear and anxiety, especially since people just don't trust the government anymore,” Mulgrew said in a phone interview.
While the policy went into effect on Sunday, any schools that were closed before that date will finish out their 14-day quarantine.
NYC Teachers' Union Prepping Vaccine Plan For Members
The United Federation of Teachers union is preparing a plan to help its members get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, and is looking to use empty high schools as staging sites.
UFT president Michael Mulgrew said the operational plan is in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s request that unions assist with what has been a frustratingly slow vaccine rollout process.
"The teachers union, the Transit Workers Union, all these frontline essential workers -- please now, think about organizing your own system," Cuomo said at his news briefing on Tuesday.
The UFT will present their plan to the state by Friday, with a key strategy to include using some of the city’s largest high schools as vaccination sites throughout the five boroughs, Mulgrew said in a phone interview.
“Some of the vaccination sites probably would be schools at this point, because that's the fastest way to get the vaccines out is to get them out into the communities,” Mulgrew said.
(Update: The Department of Education said they are going to use three school sites for vaccinations starting this week: “We have already been working closely with our City partners to make use of some school sites as vaccination hubs—three are beginning this week and we’ve been clear we are planning to add more," said DOE spokesperson Miranda Barbot.)
The city’s public middle and high schools have been shuttered since mid-December and their students enrolled in remote learning, though 3K, elementary schools and schools serving students with special needs re-opened Monday after winter break.
Mulgrew said the union’s role in the vaccination rollout will be coordinating and ensuring that “all the safety checkpoints have to be in place, in terms of social distancing, mask wearing -- all of those things.”
The two major obstacles are supply of the vaccine, and ensuring enough medical staffing to administer the shots, he said. “How do we increase the capacity of nurses?” he said. “Hospitals still have to run and take care of people who are dealing with medical illness. Does that allow us to then use other nurses outside of the hospitals to get this work done? And that's going to be the biggest challenge that we have.”
When asked whether he’s hearing any hesitancy about taking the vaccine from the UFT membership, Mulgrew said it’s comparable to public sentiment at large.
“Basically like the rest of society that has gone up in terms of people feel a little bit more comfortable but I'm assuming it's gonna be between 70 and 80%,” he said. In addition to teachers, the UFT's 200,000-strong membership represents classroom aides, paraprofessionals and other DOE staff as members.
“Schools are open and we're frontline workers in the middle of this pandemic and we want that. We want access to this vaccine. So really, that's why we've been pushing so hard,” Mulgrew added.
Fate Of DOE Gifted & Talented Program Still TBD
New York City public school parents are still waiting to find out if the city will move forward in administering the Gifted & Talented test this year, with Mayor Bill de Blasio explaining on Tuesday that the pandemic has not made things "business as usual."
"The central focus has been on the health and safety our kids and our educators and our staff and making in-person learning work while doing this unprecedented online effort as well," de Blasio said at his morning press briefing. "We're living in the present to getting that right every single day. We did make the announcements obviously around some of the other elements of the admissions process. We will be having an announcement shortly on the Gifted & Talented piece as well."
The Gifted & Talented test—the exam taken by four-, five- and six-year-olds to determine whether they meet academic standards for academically challenging Gifted & Talented programs—is usually administered this month following a registration process that starts in November. But this year, registration never occurred, leaving hundreds of thousands of public school parents wondering whether the G&T test would be canceled this year. Approximately 16,000 students are typically enrolled in the program every academic year, out of a total student body of 1.1 million.
Roughly 1,600 parents incensed over the lack of clarity have since signed a petition demanding de Blasio proceed in administering the test and not do away with it as the city did with middle and high school screening process. The petition was organized by Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, an advocacy group in favor of keeping the G&T test intact, with a letter sent to de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza demanding the test be administered. They claim the city has yet to sign a contract with Pearson Education, the company which helps administer the test. The city Department of Education confirmed that no contract has been signed.
The letter, obtained by the NY Post, criticized the DOE for not renewing the testing contract back in July, adding that “it is even more alarming that after the DOE opened Kindergarten application on December 14th the G&T information was notably absent in Mayor de Blasio’s December 18th middle school and high school announcement.”
The city Department of Education cited the pandemic and the lack of other admissions indicators—namely grades and absentee record—to determine entry into a screened school.
The cancelation of middle and high school screens was applauded by advocates who look to undo screens, arguing that they contribute to school segregation.
“Last month’s announcement focused on middle and high school admissions," spokesperson Katie O'Hanlon said in a statement, "and we look forward to sharing more information with families regarding the gifted and talented exam soon. As always, health and safety is our number one priority and the previous contract vote was rescheduled to address questions about potential modifications to the test that account for the global pandemic."