NY Teachers' Unions Drop New Demands List, Want Schools Closed Over Single COVID Case

New York City released a detailed framework last week; it calls for shutting down entire school buildings if two or more students or staff from different classrooms test positive, among other safety precautions

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What to Know

  • New York's teachers' unions want a single COVID-19 case in a school to trigger an immediate 14-day closure; they listed new demands Wednesday
  • The final decision on state school reopenings rests with Gov. Andrew Cuomo; he has pledged to make an overarching determination this week
  • New York City released a detailed framework last week; it calls for shutting down entire school buildings if two or more students or staff from different classrooms test positive, among other safety precautions

New York's teachers' unions said a single COVID-19 case in a school should trigger its immediate closure for 14 days as they listed demands Wednesday for reopening this fall. The final decision rests with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has pledged to make an overarching determination on reopenings this week.

The New York State United Teachers and the city's United Federation of Teachers said in a release that districts moving ahead with re-openings “must err on the side of caution at all times.”

Districts submitted reopening proposals last week amid worries that resumption of in-person classes could put students, teachers and their families at risk. Cuomo said this weekend that there needs to be a “full conversation” that answers parents’ questions about reopening safely.

The unions said that when there is a positive COVID-19 test of a student or staff member, there should be an immediate closure of that school building and a return to remote learning for at least 14 days. They also want clear statewide directives on how contact tracing and quarantining will be conducted.

“This is no time to take risks,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a prepared release. “If the state allows school buildings to reopen, districts must be prepared to close them in the event of a positive case."

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said New York City’s reopening plan “lacks specifics” on what happens if there’s a positive case.

In a petition the UFT sent out to members, it had a list of demands they view as necessary to have school buildings reopen. That list included:

  • Voluntary testing for all students and school-based staff returning for in-person instruction
  • A rolling testing regimen in every school community for adults and student volunteers to identify those infected with the virus but asymptomatic
  • The results of these tests should be available within 24 hours
  • A dedicated group of contact tracers to investigate who else has been exposed when an adult or a student in a school contracts the virus
  • A school nurse in every school building
  • Evidence that the protections and procedures outlined in the plan have been implemented, including the testing and upgrading of ventilation systems, and the necessary staff and supplies to deep clean the buildings every night

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here


Last week, the city released its most detailed framework yet for returning students to class, at least part-time, safely in the fall. Above all, no measures will be taken that don't prioritize that -- and classes, along with entire school buildings, can be shut down immediately over positive tests, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The plan the city has submitted for state review includes closing a classroom if one or more students from that class test positive for coronavirus and switching to remote learning for 14 days. If two or more students in different classrooms test positive, officials will close the entire school and enact remote learning for the same time period. If at least two children are infected and the link is unclear, the school will be closed pending the outcome of an investigation.

When the buildings reopen, the city said that all schools will be required to have other precautions in place to deal with any COVID concerns, such as an isolation room for students with symptoms that has a dedicated staff member or health professional to monitor them until a parent or guardian can arrive to pick them up.

Students will take part in what the city has called blended learning, a combo of in-person and remote lessons in which many children will be in school two or three days each week. Under the plan, students will stay together in pods or cohorts in order to facilitate contact tracing in the event of a positive case — meaning that high schools and middle schools (where students typically do not share classes with all the same students) will operate fairly differently this fall. Parents can also opt for fully remote learning as well. See more details on the city's plan here.

New York City's threshold for reopening is slightly more strict than the state's. City schools will only reopen if the percentage of citywide positive tests is less than 3 percent over a seven-day rolling average, de Blasio said. If that percentage is equal to 3 percent or higher, schools will close. The city, along with the rest of the state, has seen just a 1 percent seven-day rolling positive test rate for weeks now.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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