As New York City schools reopened following the winter break on Jan. 3, President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Michael Mulgrew spoke at the American Sign Language and English Lower school in Manhattan on Monday and addressed questions and concerns about classes resuming during the recent COVID-19 surge.
Among new safety measures enacted last week by former Mayor Bill de Blasio before he left office are regular testing for both vaccinated and unvaccinated students in New York City schools. Mulgrew stressed at the press conference that it was of the utmost importance for students and faculty to adhere to these guidelines in order to minimize infection or contact with infected individuals.
However, Mulgrew also stated that unless schools offer a virtual instruction option, it is not possible to force students or faculty to get tested, and that only the state can force testing consent at that time.
“If we do not have a remote option, the state is the only one that can mandate the testing,” said Mulgrew. “Without a remote option we cannot, that is the law.”
According to an email sent out by the UFT on Jan. 2, in-school COVID-19 testing and surveillance will be doubled from what it was last year. Over the winter break, about 2 million take-home tests were given to students and faculty, and in the month of January each week school staff and faculty members will be given at-home testing kits approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
These kits include tests that determine whether or not an individual is infectious at that time. The goal is to ensure that there is minimal transmission of the virus within NYC schools and to provide quick and accurate results.
With this new policy, kits will also be distributed to all students and staff in classes where a positive COVID-19 case is suspected or identified.
Kits will also be distributed to anyone within the school system who exhibits symptoms such as coughing, fever, new loss of taste or smell, or shortness of breath.
While the UFT and many parents and guardians believe that moving to remote learning would be safest, new Mayor Eric Adams maintained that schools need to remain open.
“Virus levels within schools are low,” said Mayor Adams in a press conference Dec. 28, though he didn’t provide evidence indicating this. “Your children are safer in school than anywhere else.”
When questioned about the prevalence of the virus within schools, Mulgrew reiterated that currently there was no way to tell.
“We do not know the percentage, we do not know,” said Mulgrew at Monday’s press conference. “It comes down to a school by school basis.”
The Department of Education’s (DOE) daily health screener has also been updated with the new mayoral administration to reflect and include questions about at-home testing, but these results are not to be uploaded to the screener. Instead students, faculty and parents will be required by law to confirm results of the screener if the test result comes back positive.
“It has been very frustrating,” said Mulgrew of the Adams administration’s decision to keep schools open despite the COVID-19 Omicron variant increasing cases. “We now have a new mayor, so we will see how that goes. Right before the break the teachers heard every day how the situation room was working, and every teacher in New York City knew that was not true. Now, we try to work with this new administration and we will see what happens over the next couple of weeks.”
amNewYork Metro reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment, and is awaiting a response.