With just a week left before the city’s winter break for public schools, rumors circulated among panicked parents and confused educators that Mayor Bill de Blasio was imminently prepared to shut down in-person learning as COVID cases skyrocketed recently in the city and school system.
The Department of Education asked principals to quell the rumors with a memo sent Thursday to reassure parents that there are no plans to shutter the school system at this point.
“As soon as possible, please communicate to your school communities that there is no imminent plan or intent to transition to remote learning system-wide. All temporary classroom and schoolwide closures due to widespread transmission within a school are decided by the Situation Room on a case-by-case basis,” said the memo from the office of First Deputy Chancellor Donald Conyers.
At the same time, officials are urging administrators to make sure all kids have devices to learn online as classes or whole schools quarantine because of positive cases.
As de Blasio held a somber press conference Thursday afternoon to warn the city that the COVID omicron variant was on the rise in New York, he touted the work of the Situation Room – which coordinates COVID response in schools – and said the city could deploy more staff to the school system as needed.
“If the Situation Room needs any additional personnel, we’ve ramped it up in the past very quickly,” de Blasio said at the press conference. “We have a lot of people already trained to be a part of it. So we can definitely ramp up the personnel, the hours, whatever we need.”
But with the surge in cases, some principals have said they’re getting busy signals when they call the phone number for the Situation Room. They said the fact that the Situation Room is closed on Saturdays has also made it difficult to respond quickly.
The head of the principals’ union said the city is failing to give educators adequate guidance.
“With the significant increase in cases in recent days, the DOE and the Situation Room are once again ill prepared to respond in a timely manner, leaving principals without clear guidance,” said Mark Cannizzaro, President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, in a statement.
Last week, about 2,000 classrooms were either partially or completely closed due to COVID cases; this week, that number has jumped to more than 3,000.
With reporting from Jaclyn Jeffrey-Wilensky