No update yet on changes to ‘two case’ rule for New York City school closures, officials say

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The New York City Department of Education is still mulling over whether to scrap a COVID-19 closure policy that forces dozens of public schools to shutter their doors every week over a month and a half after Mayor Bill de Blasio said the rule would be reevaluated, officials said Tuesday. 

Under the DOE’s “two case” policy, school buildings are required to shut down for at least 10 days if more than one COVID-19 case not linked by classroom or cohort is detected within a seven-day period to allow for staff to thoroughly clean the building and contract tracers to determine the spread of the virus. As of March 23, 868 classrooms are closed and over 250 school buildings are closed with some being for 24 hours and the majority being for an extended period. But given that many public school buildings house more than one school it is sometimes difficult to determine just how many schools are being impacted by two-case closures. 

Many New York City public school parents have grown increasingly frustrated with the rule which some argue  “is not-evidenced based” and unfairly prevents their children from attending in-person learning adding more unnecessary stress on families. “It’s untenable, I’m totally operating at the fringe of my capacity,” said Zarna Garg, a Manhattan mother of three public school students. “There is no way for any sane human being to withstand the system and without losing their sanity.” 

Two of Garg’s children are fully-remote high schoolers desperate to get back into the classroom. Her third, however, is an elementary school student enrolled in blended learning who constantly has her in-person schedule interrupted by the two-case rule. “In theory school is open but every day there is a new email saying ‘oh it’s open, no it’s not open, it’s closed for 10 days,” said Garg.  

In response to parent outcry, city lawmakers are now also pushing for answers from department officials. During a City Council hearing on Tuesday, Brooklyn City Councilmember Brad Lander asked Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter when the city would change the rule.  Staten Island City Councilmember Joe Borelli also pushed for answers from Porter and demanded an explanation for the six-week delay in an update on the rule. 

“What specifically are we waiting for?” Borelli asked. “Is there a study? is there a question that needs to be answered? is there a device that needs to be installed in classrooms?…there is no classified information in government.”  Porter explained the DOE is currently “leveraging” new guidance issued from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on school closures. One change the DOE has made based on the new guidance is to offer families of fully-remote students an opportunity to opt-into blended beginning this week. 

“I promise we are coming back with more specifics on the two case rule answer,” said Porter. “We hear it loud and clear from every councilmember.”