MANHATTAN (CN) — On the eve of New York’s deadline for school districts to submit reopening plans for September, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized Friday that school staffers will get priority for free coronavirus testing and 24-hour turnaround on their results.
The announcement follows the city’s release of test-and-trace protocols for its schools a day earlier and three weeks after the city unveiled a plan for blended learning for when schools reopen for the first time since March.
All parents who prefer fully remote learning can keep their children home for as long as they feel is safe, but de Blasio noted Friday that 75% of the 400,000 parents who responded to the city’s recent survey said they want their children back in the classroom.
To that end, the city’s Department of Education has committed to stocking up on masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant, among other hygiene products.
New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said at Friday’s briefing that cleaning will be underway throughout the day and night, and that students and teachers will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“The safety and health of our school communities is always our first priority — before, during, and after the Covid-19 pandemic — and we will remain vigilant in monitoring health conditions this fall while driving toward academic excellence for every student,” Carranza said in Thursday’s release.
At the Friday briefing, Dr. Ted Long, director of the NYC Test + Trace Corp., described the city’s plans for handling outbreaks.
Specifically, if there is one case found, that one classroom will shut down for 24 hours and switch to remote learning. If two cases are found in the same school but different classrooms, the whole school will close and switch to remote learning, and those potentially exposed will have to quarantine for two weeks.
Safety is paramount, Long assured.
“As a parent myself, the safety and health of my son is always my highest priority,” said Long. “We’ve designed a tracing operation for our schools that puts the safety and health of our teachers, students and kids like my son at the center at all times.”
As schools reopen for on-site learning — expected to run two to three days a week, depending on their size — Carranza and de Blasio said the plan is to keep the same group of students together throughout the school day as much as possible to help with contact tracing if a case comes about.
All staff members will have to get tested in the days ahead of the first day of school, and will have priority access for free testing at various sites across the city with a 24-hour turnaround for results. Staff are also encouraged to be tested for Covid-19 monthly.
“We are doing everything in our power to keep kids healthy while ensuring they are getting the education they deserve,” de Blasio said in Thursday’s announcement. “These rigorous test-and-trace protocols will keep our students and staff safe as we start off this new school year.”
The mayor spoke to his personal concerns as a parent at the Friday briefing.
“I’m not going to do anything when it comes to New York City public schools that is anything less than the standard I would set for my very own children,” de Blasio said. “I want to know, every parent wants to know, every day, are your kids safe? We have to make sure everything we do meets that standard constantly. If it’s not safe, we don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo must sign on the reopening plans of all 700 school districts in the state. De Blasio emphasized that the only way schools will open at all in September is if the city’s infection rate stays below 3%, which it has since June 10.