NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With elementary schools opening Tuesday and high schools on Thursday, the head of the teachers’ union is calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to strongly consider shutting down public schools in the nine COVID cluster zip codes.
PS 238, the Ann Sullivan School, is in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, a community which currently has a 6.92% positive test rate for COVID-19.
Teachers’ union president Michael Mulgrew says it should be shut down, along with the approximately 80 other schools in the nine zip codes with positive test rates over 3%.
“What I am saying at this moment is that the city should strongly consider shutting down all of those schools in those zip codes,” Mulgrew said. “The last thing we need to do is have our whole city shut down again because of a lack of courage to do the right thing and the smart thing.”
Mulgrew is making the demand as elementary schools opened for in-person learning Tuesday. High schools and middle schools open on Thursday, with 500,000 students in all returning to school.
Mulgrew released the following statement at the end of the school day Tuesday:
“Today marked an important turning point: the reopening of hundreds of elementary schools for our city’s children. We achieved this — the first big city system to do so — thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of tens of thousands of teachers and other UFT members who have worked relentlessly to serve their students while seeing that the children, their families and their colleagues remain safe.
“Today’s reopening was largely without incident, and in cases where there were problems — for example, six schools did not have a nurse — we were able to resolve them.
“We worked hard to get our public schools to a safe place and so far there has been no indication of widespread infection in school buildings. But the same cannot be said for some zip codes in New York City, where the infection rate is escalating.
“According to Mayor de Blasio, the citywide coronavirus infection rate has now reached 3 percent, driven by much higher infection rates in certain zip codes where the infection rate has ranged from more than 3 percent to nearly 7 percent.
“The city’s plan has been to switch to remote instruction for all students if the citywide infection rate reaches 3 percent on a seven-day rolling average, But the city can’t sit by and let the virus spread in these or other zip codes for days until it drives the overall city rate above the seven-day threshold.
“We have advised the city that if infection rates in these areas cannot quickly be contained and reduced, the city must adopt a strategy to close public facilities — including the more than 80 public schools — in these hard-hit neighborhoods.
“We cannot put the entire city at risk by allowing COVID rates to rise.”
The mayor has said if the positive test rate citywide, all 146 zip codes, is 3%, all schools will close.
According to city statistics, the one-day positive test rate for the city is 3.25%, but the seven-day rolling rate is 1.38%, which is why the mayor allows the schools to stay open.
“So you’re telling the mayor that out of an abundance of caution, he should move aggressively to shut down the schools in those nine zip codes?” CBS2’s Marcia Kramer asked.
“He should definitely move aggressively to keep those communities safe right now,” Mulgrew said.
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A spokesperson for the mayor says that although the numbers are alarming, he’s still watching and waiting.
“We’re keeping a close eye on our indicators and will decide, based on data and science, when and if widespread closure is appropriate,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, seven high schools, including Tottenville and Susan Wagner in Staten Island, that were supposed to open for in-person learning will now do virtual learning because of a teacher shortage.
It means the kids will go to school and sit in the classrooms but learn remotely.
Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli claims poor planning on the part of the mayor and schools chancellor.
“They were warning them months ago, months ago,” Borelli said. “The mayor and chancellor are as good at their job as two droopy socks.”
The mayor again refused to say how many more teachers have to be hired, saying it will take a few more weeks to figure it out. The union estimate is 2,000.
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