Mayor: Students Can Attend Classes 5 Days A Week, Parents Must Consent To Frequent COVID-19 Testing

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City Public Schools will begin a phased reopening on Monday, Dec. 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday.

Elementary schools, pre-K and 3-K centers will reopen first, followed by all grades in District 75 special education programs on Dec. 10.

“We are focusing on the younger grades,” de Blasio said. “Studies consistently show that younger kids are having less of a negative experience and there’s less concern about the spread when it comes to younger kids.”

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The mayor also noted the unique challenges parents of younger students are facing without in-person classes as a reason for opening elementary schools first.

“We feel confident that we can keep schools safe,” he said.

The plan for reopening middle and high schools is still being developed, de Blasio said.

Watch Mayor De Blasio’s Press Conference:

Public schools were ordered to close on Nov. 19, which the mayor said at the time was automatic once the city’s seven-day coronavirus positivity rate reached 3%.

De Blasio said the city will no longer use that metric.

“The idea of the hard number made a lot of sense back in the summer when we had not yet experienced all this,” de Blasio said, adding relatively low numbers of positive coronavirus tests at schools show it’s possible to keep schools open even with a citywide positivity rate over 3%.

New York City exceeded the 3% threshold in early November, and things have slightly worsened since. More than 9,300 New York City residents have tested positive for the virus over the past seven days.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Elementary school students attending in person will be required to undergo frequent COVID-19 testing. Previously, the city had set a target of testing 20% of teachers and students in each school building once a month. Now, the testing will be weekly.

Parents must consent to the testing before sending their child back to school.

About 190,000 students will be eligible to return to classrooms in the first round of reopening, just a fraction of the more than 1 million students in the system. The great majority of parents have opted to have their kids learn remotely.

The mayor said that many of those returning in person will be able to attend class five days a week, up from one to three days before.

Schools that are in COVID-19 orange zones, which are designated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo because of rising infection rates, will reopen according to rules set by the governor, de Blasio said.

De Blasio said he had discussed his reopening plan with Cuomo.

“We all agree that we have a different reality than what we had in the summer and that this is now the way forward and the best way to protect everyone,” he said.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said the union is supportive of the phased reopening.

“While schools in the city’s high-impact red and orange coronavirus zones will continue to abide by the state’s 3% closing rules, we are supportive of a phased reopening of schools in other neighborhoods as long as stringent testing is in place. This strategy — properly implemented — will allow us to offer safe in-person instruction to the maximum number of students until we beat the pandemic,” Mulgrew said.

However, some teachers and parents said the plan took them by surprise and they’re not comfortable with it.

“I think it’s reckless,” teacher Jia Lee told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez. “The fact that actual families and school leaders in the different districts have not been consulted at all around these decisions is problematic.”

“I was just very shocked. The whole thing, it has been a roller coaster,” parent Kristen Coppola added.

“Initially, it was excitement. It was like, oh my God, yay, we’ll be back. And then, suddenly, it started to sink in, to be like oh my God, are we ready? It just seemed too soon,” parent Nirvana Randhawa said.

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