Update on two-case rule for public school closures coming next week, mayor says, again

Admissions for NYC public schools returns to screening process
High schools students around New York City March 22, 2021.
Photo by Dean Moses

City officials will announce an update on a “two-case” rule for public school closures next week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday. 

The controversial rule requires a public school building to close for at least 10 days after two COVID-19 cases are detected and not connected by classroom or cohort.  Critics argue the rule unnecessarily disrupts blended learning students trying to maintain a schedule for their in-person classes.

One parent, Elizabeth Block, told amNewYork Metro her third-grade son’s school of 524 students has closed four times in the last four months when two people tested positive causing stress for her family.

“The absurd Two-Case Rule has disrupted my third-grader’s year to the point where it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not he gets to go to school on a daily basis,” said Block. “How on earth is that a sustainable plan?” Since last September, the Department of Education has closed 811 school buildings for  24-hours and another 2,364 for 10 to 14 days. 

Some medical experts have voiced concern over the rule with some calling it “arbitrary.” “It’s not based in science,” said pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Dr. Jennifer Lighter. “It’s not based in any evidence.”  Lighter believes the rule is actually hurting more children than it is helping by forcing students to be shut in at home.  

De Blasio made the promise during his weekly interview on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” after a public school mother called into the station and asked when the mayor would announce changes to the policy. ” I understand their frustration and to be fair, there are different types of rules depending on whether there is a relationship with the cases or not.”

The mayor explained the rule was set by the city health team to “protect everyone” but now officials are considering changing the rule due to the high number of vaccinations across the five boroughs. So far, over 4 million doses of the COVID-19 have been administered, according to City data, and 65,000  out of the city’s 145,000 DOE teachers have received at least one shot of the vaccine. 

“We are doing a little more work with our health team on the right way to approach things but we will have an update next week,” de Blasio added. 

The mayor first promised the City would reevaluate its policy for closing public schools in early February with officials repeatedly assuring parents an update on the rule was in the works. Parent outrage has grown so vocal members of the City Council have also pressed the DOE for answers.

During a City Council education hearing last month,  Councilmembers Brad Lander and Joe Borelli asked Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter why the department had stayed silent for weeks on the rule. 

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

Some parents speculate officials have dragged their feet in announcing changes to the “two-case” rule out of fear of upsetting the city’s powerful teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers, which staunching supports keeping the rule in place. 

“The UFT is greatly troubled that the Mayor is planning on changing the City’s “two-case” rule to shut down schools,” union president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement issued in early March.

“We understand that the positivity rate in schools is less than one percent but keep in mind that this is due to the “two case” rule coupled with PPE, cleaning, and greatly reduced occupancy in school buildings. If the “two-case” rule gets trashed, we are fearful we will see a rise in COVID in schools. “

This article has been updated with comments from Dr. Jennifer Lighter.