When New York City’s mayor asked students and teachers to return to school buildings and told them in-person learning would be safe, the city and the United Federation of Teachers negotiated a deal: schools reopened for those who wanted to be in the classrooms, but if the citywide rate of COVID-19 test positivity exceeded 3%, schools would close.
But what happens when the metric to determine the change turns out to be the wrong measurement?
New York City is hovering just beneath a 3% rate, so close that Mayor Bill de Blasio says schools could close at any time.
Random tests at city schools of students, faculty and staff have shown a positivity rate of just .15 of a percent, or about one case in every 667 tests.
On Long Island, as worry about the pandemic’s spread escalates, schools are increasingly talking about going all-remote starting now or at the Thanksgiving break and not resuming until January, post holidays. As in the city, Long Island schools are having few problems with infections, and are not thus far a major cause of spreading. This is also true nationally and internationally.
COVID-19 is terrifying right now. Infections, hospitalizations and deaths are surging. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other leaders are rightly trying to convince us to stay home, mask up, distance and avoid large groups. To many, leaders arguing both that crowds and indoor get-togethers are dangers to be avoided and schools are mostly safe havens to be embraced has to feel contradictory. But both are true. COVID-19 is spreading, open schools are not the culprit, closing them won’t help and keeping them open won’t hurt.
New York City schools and suburban ones differ. In the city only about one-quarter of the 1.1 million kids are doing any kind of in-class learning, largely due to parental fears, the rest are remote. Many city teachers, though, are in the school buildings. And many private schools are 100% in person and faring well.
On Long Island, some districts have as many as 90% of students reporting every day, while others are strictly remote, and many offer a hybrid combination of the two. Where schools have had infections, they’ve been closed for quarantining and contact tracing, and reopened once the situation is understood and contained.
In New York City and on Long Island, teachers and parents have the right to know the schools are safe, and will be closed if they become unsafe. That determination should be made by looking at the statistics we now know matter, not the ones we thought relevant when we knew less.
Today students are learning and teachers are teaching, in person, in schools. And right now closing those schools in response to dangers lurking almost entirely outside their walls feels like trading the success we’ve achieved for a failure that’s unnecessary.
— The editorial board