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HOPE FOR THE BEST, PREPARE FOR THE WORST: At a Sept. 1 City Council hearing on city public schools reopening, several members of the Council and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called on the Department of Education to offer an option for virtual instruction. They feared that Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter were underestimating the potential spread of coronavirus in schools.

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With city public schools set to return fully in-person Sept. 13, several concerns about coronavirus testing and the lack of a remote option were raised at a Sept. 1 City Council hearing.

Ten percent of unvaccinated staff and students will be tested for COVID at every school twice a month, marking a shift from the last school year, when 20 percent of the entire school’s population received weekly testing. 

Untested Can Attend

But during the hearing, Department of Education officials announced that parents will be able to opt out of testing, meaning that students who do not consent to be tested will still be able to attend in-person classes. Students who did not have testing consent last year were placed in remote instruction.

Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter stated that the DOE has not yet figured out how it will determine which students were vaccinated and which weren't.

The new testing policy raised concerns from the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.

“Though a smaller percentage of students will be tested less-frequently, testing will be more complicated because the city must determine who is unvaccinated and who has given consent at every school,” a spokesperson for the union said. “Most importantly, the city must decide what actions to take if testing reveals an uptick in cases within a school community.”

Unrealistic Assumption?

City Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Council’s education committee, believed that it was unrealistic to expect a large number of parents to consent to their children being tested, since they will still be able to attend in-person classes if they don't.

Mr. Treyger, along with many educators and parents, has repeatedly called for a larger-scale remote-learning option for this school year. Currently, the DOE plans to provide virtual instruction only to students with serious medical conditions and to unvaccinated students who have been exposed to COVID.

Elementary-school students, who are too young to be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, will quarantine for 10 days if they are exposed and will receive live online instruction. Vaccinated students 12 and older who are exposed and do not have any symptoms will continue to attend in-person classes, while unvaccinated ones in middle school and high school who are exposed to the virus must quarantine for 10 days, or for seven days if they receive a negative COVID test.

Mayor de Blasio has defended the decision not to offer remote classes, stressing the importance of students returning to in-person classes to address their mental-health needs and learning loss.

Williams Disagrees

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams criticized that choice, stating that the DOE should “provide a remote-learning option for students and educators who do not feel comfortable attending learning in-person; until students of all ages can be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the Delta variant is under control, students and educators are at risk in school buildings.”

He and several Council Members believed that it made no sense not to offer a remote option because classroom closures due to coronavirus exposure were “inevitable.”

“I feel like it’s going to happen anyway,” said Council Member Justin Brannan. “I just don’t understand why you’re not offering it now.”

All 700 schools serving students aged 12 and up will offer on-site vaccinations for the first week of classes. So far, 325,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17 have been vaccinated.

Staff will be required to be inoculated by Sept. 27.

Ms. Porter noted the low rate of COVID transmission in schools during the past school year.

“This school year we have a powerful source of protection that we did not have last year: vaccinations. These incredibly safe and effective vaccines will do so much to keep our school communities safe,” she said. 

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