New York parents say de Blasio should avoid closing schools based on ‘two unlinked’ COVID-19 cases

School classroom with blackboard
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Parent organizers in New York are calling for the mayor to end his “two unlinked cases” policy, which calls for Department of Education schools to close if two unrelated cases of COVID-19 are found. 

In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and several of his advisers — including Dr. Jay Varna, Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, Dr. Ted Long and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza — and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, the group of parents known as #KeepNYCSchoolsOpen, said that closing schools was “needlessly disruptive” to hundreds of pre-K through fifth grade students across the city. 

Under the “two unlinked cases” rule, if two unlinked cases of COVID-19 are found in a public school building within a seven-day period, regardless of the school’s size or population, the DOE will close all schools co-located in the building for 10 days. 

“As of Jan. 21, 312 buildings are closed. Because each school building can contain multiple schools, it is impossible to know exactly how many schools are closed. Suffice to say that the number of closed schools represents a significant portion of the approximately 850 elementary and D75 schools that the mayor touts as being open,” said Daniela Jampel, a #KeepNYCSchoolsOpen organizer. “Because of this rule, my 6 year old will have two days of in-person school in January. This overly restrictive rule is not evidence-based and is taking away in-person instruction from our children for no valid reason.”

Jampel told amNewYork that her daughter’s school shut down the week before Christmas break after three children tested positive for COVID-19. The DOE’s Situation Room, which involves the DOE, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Test & Trace Corps, began shutting down schools on Dec. 27, despite the fact that schools were already in the middle of winter recess. 

“So they could have backdated the closure to Dec. 24, but they didn’t,” Jampel said. “Instead of being able to open on Jan. 6, they opened on Jan. 11.”

The group of parents said that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was the city’s main “bargaining partner” in helping to perpetuate school closures. 

In the letter, the parents wrote: “During a January 13 meeting of delegates, UFT President Michael Mulgrew called numerous school closings ‘positive,’ adding: ‘271 schools, 100 classes closed today. This means our program is working … We need to shut them down and our testing program was designed to do that.'”

Additionally, the parents said that Mulgrew admitted that he was going against the advice of doctors who said that shutting down schools for two unlinked cases was “unnecessary if schools followed protocols that are currently in place.”

“Doctors have said if you do everything else you can keep them open but I said no,” Mulgrew said. 

Jampel also told amNewYork Metro that when schools shut down, students and staff in classrooms that were unexposed are not told to quarantine. In fact, the mother of two said that students can “do anything they want to do,” including going to daycare, grandparents’ homes, the playground or parents’ workplaces. 

“They just can’t go to school, that’s the one place they cannot be,” she said. 

“As public school parents, oftentimes with multiple children in different schools, we are struggling,” the group said in the letter. “The Mayor has rightfully fought to safely open some City public schools. But the reality is that the majority of our schools are closed. All middle and high schools are closed indefinitely, with no plans to reopen. And the “two unlinked cases” rule has ensured that our elementary and District 75 schools will continue to unnecessarily close, upending the routines, educations, and livelihoods of the families who chose an in-person education.” 

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