New York suspended face-to-face education after infection rate in covid-19 tests in the city it reached 3%, forcing the parents of hundreds of thousands of children to adjust their work schedules or seek childcare services.
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Schools will be closed starting Thursday “as a precaution,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday on Twitter. De Blasio agreed with parents and teachers months ago to establish the 3% rate that forces a temporary halt to the mixed classroom and distance instruction program of the largest US school system.
New York City has reached the 3% testing positivity 7-day average threshold. Unfortunately, this means public school buildings will be closed as of tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 19, out an abundance of caution.
We must fight back the second wave of COVID-19.
– Major Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) November 18, 2020
The measure forces almost 300,000 students who had been participating in face-to-face activities to join the city’s 1.1 million public school students in fully virtual and home-based education.
Educators say face-to-face learning is more effective than homeschooling, especially for younger students and those with special needs.
Tens of thousands of them remain without mobile devices and without adequate broadband service, a problem that school officials say may not be resolved until later in the school year.
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The parents’ dilemma
“It’s crazy. We are considering plans from B to Z, because my husband and I have to work outside the home, and I have three weeks of reduced paid leave left … It’s a struggle,” said Kanika Ingram, a Verizon field technician whose husband is a manager for the US Postal Service.
We are considering plans from B to Z, because my husband and I must work outside the home
Her two youngest children repeatedly disconnect from the internet on days when they stay with their grandmother for remote instruction, she said. While her oldest son, who has just started high school, stays home where the connection is best, but he has not yet been assigned an English or social teacher.
City health and school officials said the decision to close classroom instruction was made as a precaution even though the virus has been absent from most classrooms and the infection rate in city schools has fallen. kept below 1%.
How safe is classroom education?
City officials lack sufficient information to safely modify established rules in August they set the 3% threshold, Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior public health adviser, said in an interview Friday.
As the virus spreads through the city, officials don’t know if schools could remain safe havens from the disease, he said. “As there is more community transmission, there are more infections in people associated with schools: students, teachers, other employees,” Varma said.
Due to the rigor of our protocol, it forces us to close classrooms and buildings
“It does not mean that the school itself is the place where they were infected. But due to the rigor of our protocol, it forces us to close classrooms and buildings. “
New York reported more than 5,000 cases per day at the April peak. By August, it had controlled the spread to fewer than 300 cases a day, but a recent nationwide resurgence associated with colder weather brought that number back up.
“We must fight a second wave to keep our schools open”de Blasio said on Twitter.
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has the authority to prevent schools from closing, said he would not interfere with the 3% threshold agreed to by city officials, parents and teachers.
At the same time, He urged consideration of amending his plan to account for infection rates in schools and the city. “If the school is not spreading the virus or if the school has a much lower positivity rate than the surrounding area, then the school is not part of the problem,” Cuomo said Nov. 14.
“One could argue that keeping children in school is part of the solution, rather than children spending time on the streets in the neighborhood where the infection rate is highest.”
School closings “have secondary consequences that people don’t usually think about”, said the governor. “You close schools, you make it much more difficult for parents to go to work. Now they have to worry about who will take care of the children.”
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Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a coalition of parent advocacy groups, said the city should have prioritized its most vulnerable students in class: the youth, those with special needs and the poor. “Some teachers in online classes haven’t seen their students’ faces since classes started,” Gripper said.
At the private Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the school’s principal, Bill Donohue, told parents in an email: “We will maintain our independence in decision-making while at the same time We recognize that we must carefully observe this evolving situation“.
We are preparing for the possibility that we may need to transition to remote learning at some point
On the mayor’s decision, Donohue said that “the reasoning is not entirely clear, but it appears that he is considering this bold action step for a short-term shutdown as a way to halt the increase in overall positivity rates in the city.” .
Younger students have proven not to be “important propagators”Donohue said. While the order does not apply to private schools, parents at Nightingale School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side received an alert that their children may have to stay home.
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“We are preparing for the possibility that we may need to transition to remote learning at some point … While we are not there yet, we have decided that we will send the children home with large bags containing many of their school supplies, “said Rebecca Urciuoli, principal of the elementary school.
Schools in the U.S. have been open for weeks, and so far relatively Few appear to have spread COVID-19 among students or in larger communities.
The experience of schools suggests that children are not the main transmitters of the virus to each other, their families and others, as was initially feared.
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If transmission rates are too high, there is almost nothing they can do to prevent it from reaching schools
“You can’t really take the school out of the community.”said Walter Gilliam, an educational policy researcher at Yale School of Medicine. “If transmission rates are too high, there is almost nothing they can do to prevent it from reaching schools,” he added.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who represents the city’s more than 90,000 public school employees, said health consultants hit the 3% trigger point last August before schools opened. as a security measure.
From security havens to transmission centers?
Although schools are safe now, Mulgrew said, “the virus will seep into schools and then instead of an outbreak in one or two neighborhoods, schools will be the point of connection to all neighborhoods in the city“.
The 3% standard is part of the schools’ multiple lines of defense, including physical distancing and hygiene masks. Officials don’t have enough information to know which rule could be dropped or changed without risking a crisis, Varma said.
In addition, the advisor pointed out that “our standard of evidence has to be higher than a guess (…) We cannot say with certainty that if we remove a part of this protocol we can absolutely guarantee that everything is safe. “