‘State Will Act' if Data Demands It, Cuomo Says of NYC Principals' Intervention Ask

The union voted "no confidence" in New York City's top leaders and wants the state's education department to step in

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What to Know

  • The union representing New York City's school principals is calling on the state to take control of the school system from the mayor for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic as hundreds of thousands of children are set to report back to classrooms this week
  • The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators on Sunday declared a unanimous vote of "no confidence” in Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza over their handling of safely reopening
  • Council President Mark Cannizzaro said the city still doesn't have enough teachers to safely staff city schools. But Cannizzaro stopped short of saying a strike was on the table

Testing data reported after the reopening of New York City schools will be the catalyst to any intervention by state officials, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday in response to principals' cry for additional oversight heading into one of the biggest weeks for country's largest school district.

Hundreds of thousands of children are set to report back to classrooms this week for the first time since COVID-19 closed schools in March. The union representing New York City’s school principals over the weekend called for the state to take control of the school system from the mayor for the duration of the pandemic.

The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators declared a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza over their handling of safely reopening the nation's largest public school district.

“All summer long, we’ve been running into roadblock after roadblock, with changing guidance, confusing guidance — often no guidance," Council President Mark Cannizzaro said. "The mayor and chancellor made too many mistakes and we need them to reconsider perhaps with an independent person, perhaps they can forge a better way forward."

Cannizzaro stopped short of saying a strike was on the table. “We’re right now in the middle of a pandemic. Our kids need us,” he said.

"The data is key, and we'll act on the data," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday when questioned about the state's willingness to take control of NYC schools. "If there's a problem ... the numbers will show there's a problem and we'll act accordingly."

Daily testing numbers will be reviewed by Cuomo's team and the state's health department in their ongoing watch over reopening steps, the governor reiterated. If the health department believes intervention is necessary, Cuomo said the state will act.

"We can all agree that its about educating our students. We want to get them back into school, but we want to do it safely," Cuomo added. "I get the concerns of the principals union, and we will be watching the numbers very closely."

In so-called cluster areas in the city, the governor said Monday that the state would offer schools rapid testing equipment, if they make the request.

New York City's positivity rate nearly reached 2 percent Monday, an alarming stat for schools in the district. Although the state has set a 5 percent benchmark for closing buildings, De Blasio and the DOE said the city must stay below a 3 percent positivity rate for schools to remain open.

The mayor has twice delayed the start of in-person classes and the vast majority of the city's 1.1 million students began the year remotely in what became a staggered return by age. Pre-K and special education students returned in person last week, while K-5 and K-8 school students return Tuesday. Middle and high school students will join them on Oct. 1, albeit on cohort schedules.

It's back to the classroom for thousands of students in New York City schools -- although not all.Only pre-kindergarten and some special education students are scheduled to end a six-month absence from school buildings after a last-minute decision to postpone, for the second time, plans to be among the first big districts to resume in-person instruction after the coronavirus forced students and staff home. Katherine Creag reports.

The principals union has warned of a major staffing crisis created by a deal in August between the de Blasio administration and the United Federation of Teachers that mandated schools create three groups of teachers — one to handle all-remote students, another to teach hybrid students in the classroom and a third to teach hybrid students at home. On Sunday, UFT said the city has not yet provided the extra staffing that it promised.

"We have told the DOE for months that if they wanted us to be able to serve the students in the hybrid model it would require more staff. Our students deserve teachers who have enough time and space to serve them. Our members are responsible for teaching the children of NYC, not for filling the gaps in the city and DOE's 11th hour planning and resourcing," the union said in a statement.

Last week, the city made another agreement, allowing more teachers to work from home if they're teaching students learning at home.

In its no-confidence resolution, the principals union said the mayor and chancellor “have entered into grossly irresponsible staffing agreements that fail to prioritize the needs of school children and their families.”

De Blasio's office has not offered any comment regarding the vote of no confidence, nor has it indicated classes would be delayed in any way once again. The mayor did not hold a daily media briefing in observance of the Yom Kippur holiday, but he did conduct a virtual bill signing in the afternoon, in which he took no questions.

"For the past six months, we've worked with our labor partners to navigate completely uncharted waters and accomplish our shared goal of serving students this fall. We'll continue this work to guarantee a safe, health and successful open for all. This week, more kids will be safely sitting in New York City classrooms that in any other major American city - a testament to city leadership and our educators' commitment to their students, and the importance of in-person education," DOE Press Secretary Miranda Barbot said in a statement Sunday afternoon.

The last-minute scramble to fill schools has prompted some to change their plans. On Saturday, Tottenville High School on Staten Island announced an entirely virtual plan to accommodate students. Its principal said students will still be welcome into school this week, but all learning will be done virtually with staff providing supervision to those attending in person.

As of Monday, 48 percent of New York City students have chosen all-remote, a slight uptick from 46 percent the week prior, and up from 37 percent at the end of August.

The return to schools last week went forward without too many hiccups, but pre-kindergarten and special education students that returned make up a fraction of the nearly half-million heading back later this week.

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


Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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