New York City sticks with September school reopening despite teacher pushback

By Gabriella Borter (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday reaffirmed his commitment to reopening schools for in-person learning next month, a day after the city's teachers' union said his plan was insufficient to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The mayor and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have said that all schools will have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment on hand at all times and schools will close if the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in the city is 3% or more on a 7-day average

Reuters August 21, 2020 03:11:00 IST
New York City sticks with September school reopening despite teacher pushback

New York City sticks with September school reopening despite teacher pushback

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday reaffirmed his commitment to reopening schools for in-person learning next month, a day after the city's teachers' union said his plan was insufficient to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The mayor and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have said that all schools will have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment on hand at all times and schools will close if the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in the city is 3% or more on a 7-day average. The city's positive test rate was 0.88% on Thursday.

New York City public schools, which make up the largest school district in the United States, are due to open Sept. 10 for a blend of in-person and remote learning.

"We are going to make sure these schools are safe and ready," de Blasio said on Thursday. "And if we don't think they're safe and ready, they won't reopen."

The start of the school year has sparked a tense debate around the United States over the risks and rewards of resuming in-person classes.

Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, said this week that schools in parts of the country where the rate of those testing positive for coronavirus exceeds 10% would benefit from easing into the new academic year with virtual classrooms.

That includes states like Texas, where the positivity rate hovers around 13% and Florida, at 16%, although those rates have fallen slightly from peaks of around 20%. New coronavirus cases in Texas and Florida have fallen for four weeks in a row, according to a Reuters tally, but deaths, a lagging indicator, continue to rise in both states.

On Wednesday, New York City teachers threatened to strike or bring legal action unless the city addresses specific safety demands, including a more rigorous COVID-19 testing plan and protocols for isolating students who show symptoms of the virus.

"The minute we feel that the mayor is trying to force people in to a situation that is unsafe ... we go to court, we take a job action," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing the city's 133,000 teachers, adding that a "job action" could include a strike.

The union did not respond to a request for comment on the mayor's pledge to push forward with his plan on Thursday.

The mayor's plan encourages teachers to get tested for COVID-19 every month and promises that the city's testing sites will expedite results for school staff.

Even though children infected with the novel coronavirus tend to have milder illnesses than adults do, recent research has found they can have high amounts of the virus in their airways and might be more contagious spreaders of COVID-19 than previously thought.

The findings, which researchers stress are preliminary, highlight the risks of reopening classrooms, especially in areas where the rate of positivity remains high.

At universities and colleges where students are heading back to campus this month, many are expecting to take classes remotely from their dorm rooms. But administrators at some schools seem more concerned about a lack of social distancing outside the classroom.

Parties at Indiana University in recent days prompted the school's president to send out a warning email to students, according to photos of the email posted to Twitter.

"If too many of you fail to comply, our decision will be simple: We will reverse course as other universities have done and go back to all-virtual instruction," President Michael McRobbie wrote.

Crowds of unmasked students hanging out on the Penn State's campus in central Pennsylvania on Wednesday night also received a stern warning from the university president.

Penn State suspended a fraternity caught hosting an indoor social gathering against the rules.

"Last night's behavior is unacceptable," the school's president Eric Barron wrote in a public letter to students threatening to switch wholly to remote learning. "I ask students flaunting the University’s health and safety expectations a simple question: Do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?"

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Lisa Shumaker, Brendan O'Brien and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Alistair Bell and Diane Craft)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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