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Students Returning To New York City Public Schools Greeted By Many COVID-19 Protocols And, In Some Cases, Substitute Teachers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Amid a soaring number of COVID-19 cases, New York City public schools returned to the classroom Monday following the holiday break.

The teachers' union was pushing for schools to be remote for a few days to allow time for more testing, but Mayor Eric Adams insists everyone is armed with the tools to keep kids learning and safe, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported.

According to the Department of Education, more than 67% of public school students returned to the classrooms Monday. That number is higher than 65% of students who attended on the last day before the break.

COVID VACCINE

Students at Joseph Pulitzer Junior High School in Jackson Heights, Queens said they returned to more COVID safety protocols, but less teachers to enforce them.

"Three teachers of my classes were missing," sixth grader Rachel Velazquez said. "Like, my ELA teacher had to go to different classes that she doesn't go to."

"They kept us three feet apart when we sit in a desk," seventh grader Adrian Reyes said.

"And in the front they have like masks and sanitizer," sixth grader Maria Orea added.

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 city didn't confirm how many substitutes were needed city wide, but the schools chancellor said subs and central staff were at the ready.

"Right before the break that teachers heard every day how there was plenty of substitutes, and the situation room was working. And every teacher in New York City knew that was not true. So now, we try to work with this administration," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said.

WATCH: UFT President Shares Update On Return To Schools 

Adams on Monday announced a new command center schools can call for testing problems and lack of staff.

He said PCR testing has doubled, so now up to 20% of vaccinated and unvaccinated students can get swabbed, and 1.5 million at-home test kits are available.

"When there is a case in school, we will test every close contact, isolate positive cases," Schools Chancellor David Banks said.

Any positive case must quarantine for 10 days. However, in a change in policy, close contacts can attend school with a negative test and no symptoms.

"I just hope he doesn't get sick. I just pray every single day," Bronx parent Porsha Martinez said.

"In the school, less than 1% of children are infected," Adams said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Several private schools like Our Lady Queen of Angels postponed in-person learning until at least Wednesday, requiring parents provide a negative test result or vaccine card before students return.

Adams said he prefers mandated testing with an opt-out option, but his legal team needs the go-ahead from Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Her office did not get back to CBS2.

CBS2's John Dias contributed to this report.

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