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NYC schools reopening will begin with special education, de Blasio says

In-person learning at public schools in New York

In-person learning at public schools in New York City, such as PS 452 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, has been suspended since last week. Credit: Craig Ruttle

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday he is working toward reopening city schools, which he said would involve "constant" coronavirus testing.

Speaking at his daily news briefing, the mayor provided no timeline for schools reopening, but said that the city has to take its "core vision" of health and safety first and "intensify it."

The mayor, who closed schools last week when the city’s seven-day average coronavirus positivity rate by its own metrics reached 3%, said parents giving consent for their children to be tested in schools will be key to the process. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has said the goal is to reopen schools by next month.

"I know how much parents want their children back in school," de Blasio said. "I know how much educators and staff want to be there to serve kids. It will take a lot more testing, a very aggressive approach, a proactive approach. But we can do it."

The mayor said that schools would reopen in waves and District 75 schools, or special education, would have first priority because of those students’ dire need for in-person learning. The next group to return to schools would be early education students — 3-K and pre-K — and then elementary school students, de Blasio said.

The push to reopen schools comes as de Blasio said the state is expected to move to designate the city as an "orange zone," which would mandate the closure of indoor dining and businesses such as gyms.

The mayor has said the city is on track to meet the state's metric of a seven-day 3% positivity rate for 10 consecutive days in the coming days.

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"Once that happens, we will be in a position to take additional measures to reopen schools," de Blasio said.

The state derives its positivity rate from test results that come back on a specific day, while the city's metric is based on tests taken on a particular day. On Wednesday, de Blasio said the city's seven-day average stood at 3.06%. The state's statistics had the seven-day average at 2.57%.

Under an orange zone, schools can reopen as early as the fifth calendar day after the zone's designation if everyone in attendance at the school, including teachers and staff, first receives a negative coronavirus test, according to state guidelines.

The rules also mandate that 25% of the in-person learning community, including teachers and staff, must be tested weekly. The state will provide schools with rapid test kits if requested.

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