Accountability Andrew Bill de Blasio Cuomo Health New York City Safety

Leonie Haimson: The Risks and Benefits of Opening New York City Schools

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Leonie Haimson summarizes the pluses and minuses of reopening schools in New York City.

She points out:

Many public health experts and epidemiologists agree that NYC schools seem to be in the best position of any large district in the country to offer face-to-face learning, with an COVID positivity rate of only about one percent.

Our positivity rate is very low and the lowest we are likely to see until there is an effective vaccine, which could take a year or more to be developed and widely adopted. By borough, according to the state, the current positivity rates ranges from 1.3% in the Bronx, .9% in Staten Island and Brooklyn, .8% in Queens and .6% in Manhattan.

However, and this is a big however, schools should be reopened only if they can adopt rigorous safety and health protocols.

One of the biggest risks to safety right now is the poor ventilation in many NYC schools. Ventilation is a critical issue, as closed and stuffy rooms will intensify the risks of infection and virus spread. Many schools have lousy or broken ventilation systems, and/or classrooms with windows that don’t open or no windows at all, as I pointed out in this article. According to a principal survey we did ten years ago, 40% reported they had classrooms with no windows – and I doubt the situation has improved…

While many parents and teachers have been pushing for outdoor learning for safety reasons, the DOE has not provided them with any support to achieve this important goal. In fact, I have heard that some schools have said the DOE is discouraging them from providing outdoor recess or learning…

Another critical issue is the lack of testing with results fast enough to ensure that students and staff who are ill know to stay home and quarantine rather than infect others. Right now, many testing sites across the city take 5-15 days to deliver results, which is nearly useless. More and more, states are realizing that to safely reopen schools, they should adopt rapid antigen testing, which gives results within minutes and cost only $1-$2 each. Six governors from Maryland, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia have teamed up to buy large quantities of these quick testing kits, but not Governor Cuomo, for some reason.

Rather than join this consortium and help schools reopen safely, Gov. Cuomo has lambasted schools over the weekend for not having their own testing procedures in place, something they do not have the funds, the staffing or the expertise to do. Though he rightfully stepped in to help hospitals by purchasing PPE and helping to quickly expand testing sites when the COVID crisis first hit, he now acts that he has no responsibility to do the same to help and support schools in this difficult time.

Understandably, many parents are confused and ambivalent. Despite the Mayor’s spin that more than 700,000 students chose to engage in some form of in-person learning in the fall, it appears that fewer than half NYC parents registered any preference on the online survey, with 264,000 parents opting into remote learning and 131,000 blended learning. Many families seem to be waiting to see what the plan is for their schools, after which they can choose full-time remote learning at any time.

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