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Is closing classrooms best for NYC children during the pandemic?

Posted at 12:41 PM, Nov 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-17 12:41:01-05

NEW YORK CITY — COVID-19 cases are rising in New York City, but not inside public schools, according to the latest testing data from the Department of Education.

The city on Tuesday remained below the 3% threshold that would trigger closures and full remote learning for all students, with the latest testing results over a seven-day average at 2.74%.

But, according to the Department of Education, of the 46,035 students who have been tested for COVID-19 since October, when random testing at public schools began, only 95 were positive, prompting conversations about whether schools should stay open even as coronavirus cases continue to climb citywide.

“It’s very frustrating for us, moreso for the young people and their parents,” said Mark Torres, a high school teacher in Manhattan. “Don’t tell me kids going to their neighborhood school are gonna be sick everywhere and not be sick in school. I don’t buy that.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said schools could be safer for kids than being home in the neighborhoods where the virus is rapidly spreading.

“What I am suggesting to the parents and teachers and the mayor is, let’s take a second calculus and take a look at infection rates in the schools,” he said over the weekend.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday the city would consider “different approaches, including what’s going on in schools across the board.”

The teachers union, meanwhile, is urging New Yorkers to do their part to reduce the positivity rate so schools can remain open.

"Our public schools have been among the safest places to be because educators, parents, and students have followed the rules even when it has been hard,” the union said in a statement to PIX11 News.

City Councilman Mark Treyger, chair of the Education Committee, said there also needs to be a supportive plan in place for kids who require face-to-face time with their teachers.

“Our most vulnerable children — special needs, homeless — give them an option of five days a week in person with the option to opt-out,” he said.

With the possibility of another citywide school shutdown looming, parents, teachers and principals are putting their thinking caps on again to figure out how to keep kids safe and properly educated.

“I wish we would stop depending on a vaccine and actually do the public health measures we need, so the kids could get a great education,” Torres added.