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De Blasio makes another promise to update parents ‘in coming days’ on ‘two-case’ public school closure policy

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Photo courtesy of the Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Public schools will soon no longer abide by the City’s “two-case” rule for COVID-19 closures, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. 

The mayor assured parents during a morning press conference the rule would be scrapped and replaced with a different policy to improve the “stability and consistency” of in-person instruction. Under the policy, the Department of Education shuts down a school for 10 days and forces all students to take classes remotely if two unlinked cases of COVID-19 are detected in the building. Critics of the rule say it unnecessarily disrupts students desperate to return to school buildings after a year of isolating at home and further complicates the return of more live instruction. 

In addition, a number of medical experts are denouncing the rule as more harmful than helpful to students struggling with remote learning and for those grappling with pandemic-related depression and anxiety. One physician told amNewYork Metro the policy is “arbitrary” and given the low rate of COVID-19 transmission in schools and the increasing number of New Yorkers receiving a vaccine for the virus the rule could be done away with without posing a threat to students. 

“We recognize that repeated closures result in social, emotional, and educational harm for kids and families,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. “Our aim is to strike the right balance between while retaining our gold standard of stringent safety measures in schools.” 

De Blasio’s announcement on the “two-case” rule was coupled with an update on the city’s enrollment period for blended learning which the mayor extended until Friday, April 9. But when asked by reporters if the new closure policy would be released before the Friday deadline for parents to opt their children in the city’s hybrid learning model, de Blasio was unable to commit to a date. 

“We’ve got a little more work on the new rule, I can safely say that the two-case rule will be gone and we are working on what is the new rule,” de Blasio told reporters.” We do want to talk to all of the organizations, the unions that represent the folks that work in our schools and we want to go over the evidence we have with them.” The mayor added that no matter what, the new rule will lead to public schools being open much more consistently. 

A detailed update on the policy is long overdue, according to some public school parents. De Blasio first announced the city was considering changing the rule in early February and has promised multiple times to break news on the rule. On top of this, Department of Education officials were unable to provide an answer as to what is causing the delay in the policy change during a recent City Council hearing leading some to believe the city had not begun to examine the rule. 

Some parents have grown increasingly frustrated with the mayor’s lack of detail on any potential changes to the two-case rule and worry that parents will continue to left in the dark in regard to all system-wide changes for the upcoming school year. 

“The city has had months to reexamine its arbitrary and disastrous 2-case rule and yet again parents, teachers, and administrators are awaiting actual details from the Mayor. Real equity means giving parents, teachers and administrators clarity and confidence and that’s the only way we’ll get as many kids as possible back in school, 5-days-a-week this spring and a full reopening in the fall,” said Justin Krebs, public school parent and secretary for the District 15 President’s Council. 

“Students deserve a safe school to learn in. Teachers deserve a safe school to teach in. And parents deserve to feel safe sending their kids to school. All of this is possible based on best public health practices.” 

President of the citys’ teacher union,  the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew has repeatedly backed the two-case rule and did so again on Monday shortly after the mayor’s morning press conference. Mulgrew reminded the city that no changes to the policy could be made with approval from the state. 

“A proclamation is not a plan.  The city can’t change the two-case rule without Albany’s approval,” said Mulgrew in a statement. “Thanks to the effectiveness and availability of vaccines, the percentage of adults testing positive for COVID has declined.  But students now account for two-thirds of the new infections.  We have been talking to our medical experts, and we will continue to discuss these issues with the city.  Any change to the two-case rule has to take the safety of children and their families into account, not the Mayor’s need for a Monday morning announcement.”

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