The city’s teachers union called on the mayor and his education agency head to increase the frequency of COVID-19 tests for staff and students, after hundreds of classes were shut down and an entire school closed following the first week of classes.
In a letter sent Sunday to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew demanded that City Hall replace the current testing regimen — wherein Big Apple public school staff and students are tested for the virus every other week — with a weekly test.
“While so far our public schools have successfully reopened, I am concerned that this year’s reduced frequency of COVID testing means that thousands of children will spend days in classrooms without the early warning system that last year made our schools among the safest places in the community,” he wrote.
Mulgrew noted that during the first week of the 2021-2022 school year, fewer than half of students and DOE employees at about 1,800 schools and sites have received COVID-19 tests, and 663 classrooms have been fully or partially closed, according to the Department of Education’s most recent data.
“But because current testing is bi-weekly, hundreds of other schools will not get a visit from a testing team until the coming week,” he said. “Meanwhile, students in untested schools — including children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated — could be needlessly exposed to the virus.”
Photos from the first week of school documenting students crammed in crowded hallways and cafeterias, as well as a rise in pediatric coronavirus cases, bolster the union’s case that more frequent testing for the virus is necessary, Mulgrew wrote.
“If the city had a thorough and rigorous weekly testing protocol, it is not unreasonable to expect that the real number of classrooms that would be fully or partially closed today because of COVID-19 infections could be 1,000 or even higher,” his letter continued. “We must do all we can to keep our schools open and our students and staff safe. Weekly testing of students under age 12, along with those in District 75, must be reinstated if we are to meet that goal.”
In response, DOE spokesperson Danielle Filson said, “Last week we successfully and safely opened our schools to all New York City students for the first time in 18 months.”
“We will continue to base our health and safety protocols off the guidance of our medical experts and in the best interest of our school communities,” Filson added in a statement.
The UFT’s ask comes after newly issued state Health Department guidance requires solely unvaccinated teachers to receive a test once a week for COVID-19. De Blasio announced on Aug. 23 that all public school stuff are required to receive at least one dose of a vaccine by Sept. 27, though a Manhattan Supreme Court judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked City Hall’s popular mandate.
On the technology-plagued first day of school last week, the education department reported 33 kids tested positive for the coronavirus Monday and that 80 classrooms were closed. The DOE said 50 staffers also had positive COVID tests.
De Blasio would not say how many kids attended the first day of classes in New York’s public schools Monday, citing a 82.4 percent attendance rate based on a preliminary count, while he and the DOE would not publicly disclose the underlying statistics showing how they arrived at the figure.
The Post reported Sunday that an East Harlem school, where 19 people tested positive as of Friday, became the first school that the DOE has temporarily closed for 10 days due to the spread of COVID-19.
Last year, the city was not be able to open its middle and high schools because of a lack of capacity to test students and staff weekly for COVID-19.