Just a week in to the new school year, and an East Harlem school is already back to remote learning due to a COVID outbreak.
More than a dozen coronavirus cases forced PS 79 to close it's doors starting Monday. Citing “possible widespread exposure and transmission,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer says the positive cases were staff and linked to pre-school orientation.
The school will go remote through at Sept. 28.
In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday, the president of the city's largest teachers union is demanding changes to the COVID policy. In the letter, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew called for weekly testing, saying “while so far our public schools have successfully reopened, I am concerned that this year’s reduced frequency of COVID testing means that thousands of children will spend days in classrooms without the early warning system that last year made our schools among the safest places in the community.”
The union said the current system in place, which has biweekly testing, is insufficient to protect students and staff from spreading the virus, and the PS 79 situation only strengthens their argument.
"In the first week of the new school year, fewer than half of our more than 1,800 schools and sites have been tested, and a total of 663 classrooms have been fully or partially closed, including the closing of one entire school," Mulgrew wrote. "But because current testing is biweekly, hundreds of other schools will not get a visit from a testing team until the coming week. Meanwhile students in untested schools — including children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated — could be needlessly exposed to the virus."
He also said that number of fully or partially closed classrooms would likely be even higher "if the city had a thorough and rigorous weekly testing protocol."
On Friday, the mayor acknowledged the challenges keeping schools open.
"Our goal is to minimize disruption and what we’ve seen to begin with is promising," de Blasio said during a radio interview. “We know this is a massive school system — anything that reduces the number of closures, we want to hear about it.”
In response to the union's letter, the NYC Department of Education said in a statement on Sunday, "Last week we successfully and safely opened our schools to all New York City students for the first time in 18 months. We will continue to base our health and safety protocols off the guidance of our medical experts and in the best interest of our school communities.”