Mayor Eric Adams insisted Monday morning that schools in New York would remain open despite an extraordinary increase in Omicron cases. He repeated the message in a series of TV interviews and after his first official visit to the school since taking office on New Years Day.
“We are really excited about the opening of our schools,” said Adams outside the school, Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx. “We want to be extremely clear: the safest place for our children is a school building. “
Mr Adams said distance learning has been disastrous for too many of the city’s nearly one million schoolchildren in the nation’s largest school district, and has been particularly harmful to neighborhood children. low income and homeless students.
But the calm Mr. Adams sought to project was not shared by the many parents and educators who greeted Monday morning with deep trepidation. After about a year of remarkably low virus transmission in schools, Covid cases skyrocketed in the week leading up to winter break, shutting down 11 schools and over 400 classrooms, and the contact tracing system for the city’s schools did indeed collapse in the midst of the wave.
New York City reported 35,650 new cases of the virus on Sunday, with an average 7-day test positivity rate of nearly 22%, state data showed.
Some families and elected officials have called on Mr. Adams to delay the start of the school year by a few days to allow each child and educator to be tested. And teachers have raised questions about how schools will be properly staffed with so many teachers sick with the virus or quarantined due to exposures.
“This is a time when everyone is on deck,” Adams said, acknowledging that administrators who are not normally in the classroom would be used to address staff shortages if necessary.
Mr Adams endorsed a plan created by former Mayor Bill de Blasio that is designed to keep more classrooms open as the wave continues. The plan calls for the distribution of 1.5 million rapid home test kits to schools.
Starting Monday, the city is also doubling its school random testing program to give PCR tests to 20% of consenting children in each school each week. But most families did not choose to allow their children to be tested, which made the testing pool very small in some schools.
The mayor and new schools chancellor David C. Banks are betting their plan to increase testing will prevent major outbreaks.
“We’re going to turn those question marks into an exclamation point: we’re staying open,” Adams said.
Mr Adams and Mr Banks have so far resisted calls to impose booster shots for educators or vaccines for children. The mayor said a decision would be made this spring regarding the requirement for student vaccines for the fall.
“We’re not at the mandate stage,” Adams said Monday, as he encouraged eligible New Yorkers to get vaccinated and boosted.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the city’s teachers’ union, said in an email to members that he encouraged Mr. Adams to start the year remotely. But on Monday morning, Mr Mulgrew said he was working closely with the new mayor and that schools had been among the safest places in the city throughout the pandemic.
Later Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul reiterated his commitment to keeping New York’s children in schools.
“My point of view is that every child should go back to school unless they are positive,” she said.
The state has distributed 5.2 million home test kits to schools so far, with an additional 3.8 million arrived yesterday and have yet to be distributed.
Under the current rule, test kits will only be provided to students for known exhibits that occur in classrooms, although Ms Hochul said the policy is under review.
She also warned against a return to distance learning. “The teachers did their best. The parents did their best, ”she said. “But we ask too much.”
In particular, she spoke about the effects of distance learning on children in communities of color, those who lack resources and those without high-speed internet access – an existing digital divide that she says had widened to become a “digital canyon”.
“We cannot have this,” Ms. Hochul said. “It was an injustice. We can’t have that anymore.