Mayor de Blasio warns parents to prepare for school closures Monday due to citywide COVID spike

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This is Marine Park Junior High School in Brooklyn. It and many other schools may not open if the teachers go on strike because their health concerns are not met by the city. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

New York City parents should prepare for school closures due to a citywide spike in COVID-19 cases as early as Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday. 

For weeks, the number of new cases of the virus has been steadily increasing across the five boroughs pushing the city’s overall positivity rate closer to the de Blasio administration’s 3% threshold, triggering a citywide shutdown for in-person learning. 

Schools are still open today. De Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer the city’s daily COVID-19 positivity rate based on a seven-day average is now at 2.83%–a sharp jump from yesterday’s reported rate of 2.6%–and the daily positivity rate is 3.09%. The mayor added that there 916 new cases of the virus and that out of the 121 people admitted to a city hospital with possible COVID-19 symptoms, 28.8% tested positive for the virus. 

The numbers shared by the mayor are from Nov. 11. Since March, City Hall has released a series of daily coronavirus indicators like the daily percentage of New York City residents testing positive for the virus, the number of new cases of the virus and the number of new hospital patients positive for COVID-19 all with a two-day lag. 

“People should get ready,” said de Blasio. “Parents should have a plan for the rest of the month of November. I think that is the safe way to think about it.” 

Once the city reaches a 3% positivity rate, community-based organizations (CBO) that provide 3-k and pre-k services will still remain open as well as Learning Bridges and Learning Labs, the city’s free childcare service, de Blasio added. The difference in closure policy between CBO organizations versus public schools is due to “different reality” in terms of the risk of contracting the virus at the smaller facilities, de Blasio argued not because of a difference in union representation. 

“This standard, I want to make clear, is something the city decided. It’s not part of any collective bargaining agreement and this is the standard we set when we thought we would know we could keep things as safe as we wanted to versus something that was getting more challenging,” said de Blasio. 

Officials will provide public updates on COVID numbers tomorrow and Sunday to help parents prepare. Normally, City Hall only releases its daily COVID indicators Monday through Friday. 

Department of Education officials began sending emails to school principals urging them to prepare for “a brief time of fully remote learning” for all students on Thursday and the New York City teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teacher’s, also sent letters to instructors shortly after the mayor’s announcement on Friday. 

“Before you leave work today, make sure you have all the equipment and supplies you need in order to work remotely from home in case we are remote on Monday,” says the letter signed by UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Under the state-approved safety plan that we hammered out with the mayor in early September, all city schools must automatically go fully remote if the citywide positivity rate on virus tests is equal to or greater than 3% using a seven-day rolling average.” 

The mayor has not said how far the citywide positivity rate needs to fall in order for schools to reopen again. ” We obviously want to make sure that when we reopen this is on a sustainable basis, “de Blasio told Lehrer. ” The goal is to reopen and to stay open.” Mulgrew said on Thursday that the union is urging officials to not reopen schools until the city-wide positivity rate falls below 3% again based on a seven-day average. 

Some parents of students enrolled in blended learning were frustrated to hear the news that schools may soon close due to the low COVID-19 positivity rate among school staffers and students reported by the city. The Department of Education requires all schools to randomly test all adults and students. Out of the 111, 182 tests conducted on students and staff over the last month, only .18% have tested positive for the virus. 

“It seems like the wrong target,” Logan Gentry, the lead pastor at Lower Manhattan Community Church. Two out of Gentry’s three children are currently enrolled in blended learning and he and his wife were considering enrolling their youngest currently taking remote only classes into blended this weekend. The threat of system-wide school closures comes as the city’s now one-time opt-in period out of remote and into blended learning is coming to a close on Nov. 15. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo still has the final say when it comes to school closures and during a Friday press conference, he encouraged the city to reconsider the 3% threshold although he said that the state would not block school closures. 

“The infection rate at the schools is not the problem,” said Cuomo. ” The infection rate is very low and we’re seeing that all across the state. The problem is not coming from the schools, it’s coming from the restaurants, bars and gyms. “






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