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United Federation Of Teachers Not Happy With New York City's Decision To Have In-Person Learning In Schools On Monday

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- With the rise in COVID-19 cases has come a push for New York City Public Schools to go remote this week.

Some districts in New Jersey and Westchester County have already made that call, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported.

On Sunday, there was a line out the door of a COVID testing center on the Upper West Side. The positivity rate in New York City is almost 22%, with the highest rate -- nearly 27% -- in the Bronx. But Mayor Eric Adams said that won't stop schools from opening Monday.

"The stats are clear. The safest place for children is inside a school. The numbers of transmissions are low," Adams said. "We're going to create a safe environment with testing. We're going to identify the children that are exposed. We're going to remove them from that. The numbers show the mere fact that a child is exposed in a classroom does not mean that entire classroom is exposed."

COVID VACCINE

But the United Federation of Teachers is not confident it will be safe.

"That's why we advised the mayor today that we should go remote for at least a couple of days, because we need to really figure out where we're at in staffing capacity," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. "Teachers are informing us, um, that they cannot come in. Their child tested positive. They tested positive. We've seen COVID over the holidays that we never saw before."

FIND TESTING SITES: Click here for New York City's testing site locator, including mobile sites and at-home appointments

AVOID THE LINES: Click here for NYC Health+Hospitals testing wait times

The union sent a letter to staff, saying starting Monday double the amount of students -- around 20% -- will be COVID tested, and that more home tests are available for staff or students experiencing symptoms, and for anyone in a class where there was a positive case.

But teacher Lydia Howrilka, of a UFT caucus called UFT Solidarity, said it's not enough and has filed a lawsuit asking a judge for an emergency order to stop schools from holding in-person learning. The just has yet to rule on the request.

"Two thousand parents and educators have signed on in support and support the lawsuit. I know so many teachers who got sick over the Christmas break or have been sick since the Christmas break. So many kids have gotten sick. So like, I really have no idea what the heck we're gonna be walking into tomorrow," Howrilka said. "If the mayor wanted do it right, he should have made the testing to be opt out. That means you, you are automatically getting tested unless your parent goes out of their way and opts you out."

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Adams said only the governor can mandate testing. Parent Heather Clarke said she was just notified of a positive case in her son's class, from before the holidays.

"To stop the spread last year, we closed schools when it was 5%. Now we're at almost 30% and we're doing nothing for respiratory illnesses when New York City children overwhelmingly have asthma as a health disability," Clarke said. "You can't tell me that my children are safer in an overcrowded classroom without HEPA filters, where people are poorly wearing their masks."

Those who are positive in the school system must quarantine for 10 days. In a change in policy, close contacts can continue to attend school with a negative test and no symptoms.

"I think New York City is going in the right direction there," parent Maud Maron said.

"My child is super excited to go back, to see her friends after a long break," parent Yiatin Chu added. "A lot of families that, um, do not speak English at home cannot help their children to do remote."

Our Lady Queen of Angels is one of several private city schools postponing in-person learning until at least Wednesday, requiring parents provide a negative test result or vaccine card before their students returning.

In Westchester County, Yonkers, and New Rochelle will go remote the entire first week to allow time for testing before returning. Mount Vernon, Paterson and Newark public schools will keep kids at home until at least Jan. 14.

Editor's note: This story first appeared on Jan. 2.

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