New York teachers' unions demand 'immediate closure' of schools over a single coronavirus case


New York teachers’ unions this week said that just one positive case of COVID-19 in a school should prompt an “immediate closure” for 14 days, as the groups roll out their proposals for the fall 2020 semester amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers this week urged the state and its health officials to “issue clear protocols for how and when school districts must close their buildings,” as well as how they will perform contact tracing and initiate quarantines in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in a school or classroom this fall.


“The unions believe that if districts are to move forward with reopening their school buildings, they must err on the side of caution at all times,” the unions wrote in a statement this week. “Specifically, in the event of a positive COVID-19 case, the unions are calling for an immediate closure of that school building and a return to remote learning for 14 days before revisiting whether it is safe for the building to reopen.”

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said this week that “this is no time to take risks.”

“If the state allows school buildings to reopen, districts must be prepared to close them in the event of a positive case. But efforts can’t stop there,” Pallotta said in a statement. “Clear state guidance is needed to ensure that confusion doesn’t obstruct serious efforts to stop the spread of this virus in our schools and in our communities.”

The teachers’ unions also demanded “clear statewide directives” for how “immediate” contact tracing would be conducted, and for how mandatory and precautionary quarantining for those who may have been exposed in school will be implemented by local health officials.

“What’s more, politics must be removed from the equation, as elected officials in some areas seek to take a cavalier approach to how their local schools should reopen by criticizing the need for extreme caution, rather than letting science drive the discussion,” the unions said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce Friday his plans for schools reopening across the state on Friday. Last month, the governor said a school could only reopen if its region had entered “Phase 4” – its final phase – of its reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuomo also has said that the daily infection rate in that region needed to remain at 5 percent or lower over a 14-day average.

Cuomo said that his administration will make the determination in the first week of August. He said they will monitor all numbers between the time the decision to reopen a school is made and the first day of school, while warning that if an infection rate in the region goes over 9 percent on a seven-day average, the decision to reopen schools will likely be reversed.

Cuomo noted that should a region report a daily infection rate of over 9 percent, they will “hit an emergency stop button.”

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out his proposed plan for the 1.1 million New York City public school students come September.

De Blasio said that students will instead learn on a “blended” schedule and be limited to a maximum of three days in the classroom, while engaging in remote learning for the remainder of the week.


“Blended,” according to city officials, means that students will attend school for part of the week and learn remotely for other parts of the week. Students are expected to return for a “blended” learning school year in September, but the de Blasio administration noted that families can choose a “fully remote learning model” if they do not feel comfortable sending their children to the classroom.

The de Blasio administration also said that they would send “schedules” to families in August so that parents “will know which days the students are expected in person.”

Classrooms will only hold between nine and 12 students for in-person learning, city officials said Wednesday, while noting that the schools will be working on additional models to determine if some students need more in-person learning than others.

But de Blasio’s plan, which ultimately will be approved or denied by Cuomo, did not sit well with the city’s United Federation of Teachers.

“There is no room for error,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said this week. “New York City’s reopening ‘plan’ lacks specifics on what happens if there’s a positive case.”

He added: “The state must step in for the sake of New York City students, educators and families, and those across the state.”


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