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Mayor, Schools Chancellor Say Response To Coronavirus In Classrooms Focuses On Safety Of Students And Staff

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- City officials have unveiled a controversial plan for reopening schools in the fall amid heightened fears from both parents and teachers.

The city"s solution to educating kids in the pandemic era is a blended learning approach that could see individual classrooms or whole schools closed if there is a virus outbreak – but many question the safety and whether officials can pull it off, reported CBS2's Marcia Kramer.

"I'm not going to do anything less for the students of  New York City than  the standard I would set  for my own kids," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "The essence of the plan is safety for everyone. I need people to hear that, because I know there's tremendous concern out there. But whether you're a student, parent, educator, staff member, your safety is the essence of this plan."

WATCH: Mayor, Schools Chancellor Share Update On Fall Reopening 

The mayor unveiled a plan to reopen the city's 1,800 schools in the fall that, despite his brave words, has a lot of people concerned. Yes, schools will resort to remote learning if the infection rate goes above 3%, and yes, there will be a mask requirement and intense cleaning of school buildings, but even Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza's assurances are not convincing, Kramer reported.


"We're focusing on science, not science fiction," Carranza said. "We are thoughtfully opening schools with physical distancing, cohorting of students, requiring face coverings, and thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting throughout the day and night."

"If an illness does occur, we will respond quickly to communicate clearly during investigations and promptly to share decisions to quarantine classrooms or, if necessary, close schools," he added.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told Kramer he has a lot of concerns. For example, 70,000 kids don't have school nurses, and he says the contact tracing and testing plans are inadequate. He also says that last spring the city didn't follow its own rules.

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"You know, having press conferences and trying to talk like you've got everything set up it's not going to work for us anymore. And we're not going to take your word on it," Mulgre said. "And if we feel your policies are wrong, we are going to go out on the streets and do whatever we can to get those policies changed before we go back to live instruction."

The plan is for students to go back into classrooms 2-3 days a week, then do remote learning the rest of the week. Parents can choose all remote learning if they want.

Carranza said the goal is to keep the same "cohorts" of students together for as much of the day as possible.

"The concept here is to limit the interaction between students and large groups of students," he said. "So because we're limiting the interaction - and I just want to be very transparent with everyone that's watching - in-person school this fall will not be the same as it was last fall."

Staff members will be asked to get tested before the start of school, and the city will prioritize free testing for teachers, with a 24-hour turnaround. Students are encouraged to get tested regularly and must stay home if they are sick.

"We are choosing from a portfolio of imperfect solutions," Carranza said.

There are several scenarios:

  • If there are one or two confirmed cases in a classroom the whole room will transition to remote learning while students and staff quarantine for 14 days
  • If there are at least two cases in multiple classrooms the entire building closes and all students transition to remote learning while contact tracers investigate. The investigation could result in two possible outcomes:
    • Only the students and staff who have come in contact with those cases will quarantine for 14 days while learning remotely
    • The entire school will quarantine for 14 days while learning remotely
  • If there are multiple cases in one school and contact tracers cannot determine a link between them, the school will close for 14 days with all students learning remotely.

"If we can't know for sure that there is no further transmission going on in the school, then we will determine… that we'll keep the school closed and everybody in the school quarantines for 14 days," Dr. Ted Long, head of the city's test and trace program, explained.

Additionally, if the rate of transmission begins to rise across the city, all schools may have to close and switch to full-time remote learning.

Many parents think they should rework the plan.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"You're basically going to have to stay home with them, which not too many jobs are good with that," said parent Lily Sanchez.

"How are you going to track everybody being positive or negative in a school?" she parent Lorenny Ramirez. "I don't want to send him, but I have to work. It's like a dilemma. I don't know what to do."

"I know the kids need their education, but they need their health, too," Sean White said.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions. The biggest may be whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will actually approve the plan.

The chancellor said he worked closely with the teachers union to develop the plan, and schools may apply for exceptions.

De Blasio said the data about positive cases in schools will be made publicly available.

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