This is our daily update following the reopening of NYC schools for Monday, December 1st, 2020.
Here's the latest:
In a major shift in policy, the Cuomo administration announced on Monday that New York City public schools in newly designated COVID orange and red zones can stay open for in-person learning so long as a rigorous COVID-19 testing program is implemented. The decision comes a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an expansion of COVID-19 testing at schools as part of his new plan for schools reopening.
“They can stay open,” Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to Governor Andrew Cuomo, said at a news conference alongside the governor on Monday. “That’s something that we worked through in this more nuanced approach, recognizing that […] the mayor is doing testing on a rolling basis so it’s not like there is no testing and you would have to close and assess. So, they’ll be able to stay open uninterrupted.”
De Rosa had only referenced the new mandates would apply to the orange zones. Later on Monday, the governor's office clarified that schools in red zones could also stay open, as long as regular COVID-19 testing was implemented.
De Blasio, who made a rare appearance with Cuomo Monday via videoconference, announced on Sunday that some schools can reopen beginning December 7th with a randomized testing program that will be carried out weekly instead of monthly. Twenty percent of staffers and students attending school in person – which, at its current height, would be 315,000 students who have opted for in-person instruction – will be required to take part in the randomized testing program in an orange zone. At red zones, 30% of a school community must be tested monthly to stay open. Consent forms must be submitted and on file the first day that students return, or they will be placed back to remote learning.
The change will likely reduce learning disruptions resulting from closing school buildings. Cuomo's original orange zone guidelines required schools to close for four days should the area they reside in hit the state’s 3% average positive testing rate for ten straight days. Deep cleaning of the school was required, followed by all students getting tested prior to returning to class. But with Cuomo convinced that schools have proven to be safer than indoor dining, the mandatory orange zone school closures have been suspended.
Cuomo said he anticipates that new orange zones will likely be announced some time next week, should COVID-19 cases continue rising following the Thanksgiving holiday.
Middle And High School Students Won't Return To Classrooms Until Some Time Next Year, De Blasio Says
12 p.m.: While roughly 190,000 pre-K, elementary and special education students in District 75 are expected to return to New York City public schools once they reopen next week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said middle and high school students likely won’t return to the classroom until early next year.
“I want us to move to middle school and high school as soon as we can, but we have to do one step at a time,” de Blasio said at a news conference on Monday. “I see that the focus will be over the next few weeks up until the Christmas break, getting elementary, District 75 special education and pre-K, 3K up and running, making that go smoothly with a whole lot more testing.”
Prior to his news conference, de Blasio made similar comments on CNN, noting that there's currently not enough testing capacity for all 315,000 in-person learners at once, a point he made on Sunday. He noted that older in-person students, consisting of approximately 125,000 6th to 12th graders, will be incrementally brought back to the classroom, though a firm date is not set.
De Blasio announced that early childhood and elementary schools can reopen for a mix of remote and in-person learning on December 7th, followed by special education students in District 75 schools on December 10th. Before returning to classrooms, students are required get tested for COVID-19. Parents must also consent to having their kids participate in a randomized weekly testing program. Prior to schools closing, kids and staffers only needed to be tested at schools monthly. Students who fail to submit consent forms will be shifted back to full remote learning.
Schools were closed on November 19th after the city's average seven-day positivity rate for COVID-19 surpassed 3%, the long-standing trigger to shut down school buildings. On Sunday, de Blasio announced that the city will abandon its 3% threshold for schools closing, preferring a school by school shutdown approach that had been suggested by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The average positivity rate for COVID-19 in the city on Monday stands at 4.03%.
Younger and special education students comprised the first wave of students to return to schools on September 29th -- after de Blasio delayed reopening twice following pressure from school labor unions -- with 24,000 special D75 students offered the chance to be in schools as many as five days a week.
With the only opt-in period for in-person instruction now over for the school year, the city Department of Education is encouraging schools that have enough capacity to offer in-person instruction for more than three days.
School labor unions have thrown their support toward the second reopening as long as the DOE meets the demand for greater testing.