The slow rate of random testing for the coronavirus and the low number of consent forms for it that have been submitted among city public-school students has come under criticism by elected officials and unions representing school staff.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced during a City Council hearing Oct. 16 that so far, 72,000 students have handed in forms agreeing to be randomly tested for COVID.
That figure represents about 15 percent of the 460,000 students currently receiving blended-learning. Schools must randomly test 10-to-20 percent of their students and staff for COVID once a month. Testing began Oct. 9.
'Refusals Very Minimal'
Mr. Carranza stated that the number of families refusing testing has been “very minimal,” and that because there was no deadline for the forms to be accepted, “there’s a lot of consent forms coming in on a daily basis.”
Jay Varma, the Mayor’s Senior Advisor for Public Health, added that he was not concerned that schools have not achieved a high level of consent because he believed random testing was not as important as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
But City Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Council’s Education Committee, said that the low rate of students agreeing to random testing was worrisome “at a time when we’re seeing increased positivity across the city.”
About 170 schools recently closed in Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that have seen an uptick in coronavirus cases. Some were set to reopen Oct. 26 in neighborhoods that had restrictions imposed on businesses and seen improvement.
Unions Were Rebuffed
For months before schools reopened, the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators called for mandatory COVID testing to ensure the safety of staff and students.
During the first week of testing in schools, 16,348 staff and students were randomly selected. Just 28 tested positive: 20 staff members and 8 students.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew believed that the random testing would be “much more valuable” if students and staff were tested more frequently, such as three times a month.
Although students make up the majority of the population in the average school building, because the number who have agreed to COVID testing is relatively low, Teachers and staff have been tested disproportionately, CSA argued.
“If the 20 percent is truly random, it should be more students,” said CSA President Mark Cannizzaro.
Tested Without Consent
Assemblyman Mike Reilly also said that there were “several incidents” of students who didn’t provide consent forms receiving a COVID test.
DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said that the school system was “taking additional steps to make sure staff are using the most up-to-date consent lists during random testing."
“This should have never happened and we are adjusting our protocols to ensure it does not happen again," he said.
The Council Members pushed for increased transparency on issues such as attendance, particularly because there were still students who did not have learning devices despite the fact that remote-learning started Sept. 16.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams slammed Mayor de Blasio for the messy school reopening rollout.
“No one except for the Mayor thought that it made sense to reopen the largest school system in the country,” he said. “Can we imagine if all of the energy and the money that we wasted doing something that everybody told this Mayor we should not and cannot do, putting it into the best remote system we could?”
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