Mayor Eric Adams insisted on Monday morning that New York City’s schools would stay open despite an extraordinary surge in Omicron cases. He repeated the message in a series of television interviews and after his first official school visit since taking office on New Year’s Day.
“We’re really excited about the opening of our schools,” Mr. Adams said outside the school, Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx. “We want to be extremely clear: the safest place for our children is a school building.”
Mr. Adams said that remote learning had been disastrous for too many of the city’s nearly one million schoolchildren in the nation’s largest school district, and had been particularly harmful for children in low-income neighborhoods and homeless students.
However, the calm that Adams wanted to project was not shared equally by many parents and educators who welcomed Monday’s arrival with great trepidation. After nearly a year of very low virus transmission in schools the number of Covid cases skyrocketed in the week prior to the winter break. This caused the closure of 11 schools as well as over 400 classrooms and the collapse of the contact tracing system in city schools.
According to state data, New York City had 35,650 new cases of virus on Sunday. The average 7-day test positivity rate was nearly 22 percent.
Adams has been asked by some families and elected officials to delay the school’s start by a few days so that every child and teacher can be tested. Teachers also have concerns about how schools can be properly staffed when so many teachers are sick or quarantined from the virus.
“This is an all hands on deck moment,” Mr. Adams said, acknowledging that administrators who are not normally in the classroom would be used to address staff shortages if necessary.
Mr. Adams endorsed a plan by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, which is designed to keep more schools open in the face of increasing demand. The plan calls for schools to be provided with 1.5 million at-home rapid test kits.
The city will also double its random in-school testing program starting Monday to give P.C.R. Each school will test 20 percent of the consenting children each week. However, most families have not signed up to allow their children tested. This has led to a small testing pool at some schools.
David C. Banks, the mayor, and the new schools chancellor are betting that their plan for increasing testing will prevent major outbreaks.
“We’re going to turn those question marks into an exclamation point: we’re staying open,” Mr. Adams said.
Mr. Adams and Mr. Banks so far have resisted calls for vaccines for children or booster shots for teachers. The mayor stated that a decision will be made in spring regarding mandating vaccines for fall students.
Incoming N.Y.C. Mayor Eric Adams’s New Administration
“We’re not at the point of mandate,” Mr. Adams said Monday, as he encouraged eligible New Yorkers to get vaccinated and boosted.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the city’s teachers’ union, said in an email to members that he had encouraged Mr. Adams to start the year remotely. However, Mr. Mulgrew confirmed that he was still working closely with the mayor and that schools have been the safest in the city since the pandemic.
Later Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul reiterated her commitment to keeping New York’s children in schools.
“My view is that every child should be back in school unless they are testing positive,” she said.
The state has already distributed 5.2 million at home test kits to schools. Another 3.8 million arrived yesterday, but have yet to be distributed.
According to the current rule, students will not be given test kits for known exposures in classrooms. Ms. Hochul indicated that this policy is currently under review.
She also warned against remote learning. “The teachers did the best they could. The parents did the best they could,” she said. “But we ask too much.”
In particular, she spoke about the effects of remote learning on children in communities of color, those who lacked resources and those without high-speed internet access — an existing digital divide that she said had widened into a “digital canyon.”
“We cannot have that,” Ms. Hochul said. “That was an injustice. We cannot have that anymore.”
Source: NY Times