Citing an outbreak that stemmed from a summer school program in Westchester County, the New York Teachers Union has new demands before classrooms potentially reopen in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The union demanded this week that state health officials issue clear protocols for how and when school districts must close their buildings, and how health officials will perform contact tracing and initiate quarantines in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in a school this fall.
In the event of a positive COVID-19 case in a school, the unions are calling for the closure of that building and a return to remote learning for at least 14 days before making a determination on whether or not to reopen.
Additionally, the unions are demanding clear statewide directives for how immediate contact tracing is to be conducted and for how mandatory and precautionary quarantining for those who may have been exposed in schools is to be implemented by local health officials.
“There is no room for error,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said. “New York City’s reopening ‘plan’ lacks specifics on what happens if there’s a positive case. The state must step in for the sake of New York City students, educators and families, and those across the state.”
According to the teacher’s union, a recent COVID-19 outbreak during summer school programming in the Greenburgh-North Castle School District in Westchester “highlighted the need for uniform direction for local school and health officials on closure, contact tracing and quarantine procedures.”
The union said that after initial confusion over closing and quarantining protocols, “it’s plain that the local decisions made were inadequate, and clear state guidelines are warranted.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in Westchester County, Indiana, Georgia or anywhere else across this state or country, the threat this virus poses remains obvious,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “If the reopening of school buildings moves forward, then the entire school community needs clear direction for how to handle a positive case. Nobody can be left in the dark.
“If the state allows school buildings to reopen, districts must be prepared to close them in the event of a positive case. But efforts can’t stop there,” Pallotta added. “Clear state guidance is needed to ensure that confusion doesn’t obstruct serious efforts to stop the spread of this virus in our schools and in our communities.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday, Aug. 6 in a conference call with reporters: "We're not going to open any school unless the viral transmission rate says we have the virus under control.
"If the viral transmission rate increases significantly then we will close the schools, but there is more to this equation than just the viral transmission rate.
"The situation is very different across the state because regions are in different positions across the state and parents and teachers have different opinions across the state.
"Just as you see the situation in schools across the country has variation, the situation across the state there are variations.
"It is not just a question of the state or the local school district pronouncing that the schools are going to be open. The parents are going to make the ultimate decision on a practical level, right?
"The state can say it's OK for the schools in Buffalo to open. The Buffalo School District can say, 'Here's our plan on how the schools re-open.' The parents in Buffalo are going to decide whether to send their child. And it's the parents that are the final determination."
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