Reopening NYC Schools During Midst of Pandemic

At the beginning of August, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced schools could reopen this fall. A few months ago, this decision would not have been possible when New York City was the global epicenter of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Now millions of students are expected to return to schools and classrooms. Reopening plans need to be approved by the Education and Health Departments before the first day of school, September 10th. Every school in the New York State can reopen as long as regions average a positivity rate of below five percent in virus cases. Most of the New York State, including NYC, have maintained a positivity rate of one percent with Co-Vid cases.

Mayor DiBlasio has announced his proposal for schools reopening in NYC this fall. If the city continues having a positivity rate below three percent, every school in the city can open. NYC has the most extensive school system in the nation and is the only school district to reopen schools and welcome students in classrooms. From discovering the first case of CO-VID 19 earlier in March to becoming the epicenter of the pandemic, the city now has the lowest positivity rate in the country.

Unlike New York State, Florida, and Texas are experiencing outbreaks spreading through their states. Even with cases increasing in those states, governors are encouraging school districts to reopen. Schools in the South and Midwest began the new school year in early August. Students and teachers tested positive within the first weeks. In NYC, two positive cases can cause temporary closures.

Can NYC afford to delay the scheduled school start date?

If delays occur in opening plans, over one million families will be left to search for child care. Parents struggled to balance both working from home and homeschooling their kids once schools shut down mid-March. Families are desperate for schools to reopen to go back to work. Students with disabilities and homeless children are the most vulnerable if schools stay closed. Parents

Union leaders who represent teachers in New York City and the state disagree with the decision of the mayor and governor. They do not believe it is safe enough for both teachers and students. The system in New York City consists of 1.1 million kids and 1,800 schools. With school beginning less than a month away, school districts are still working on reopening plans that must be approved by the State Education Department. Strategies are still in the works with social distancing rules, finding enough nurses, and upgrading ventilation systems. Teachers over the age of sixty-five or with pre-existing conditions are eligible to work from home.

School Nurses at the frontlines of pandemic.

Less than forty percent of schools in the nation have a full-time nurse before the pandemic. Nurses are now finding themselves on the frontlines once schools open again. NYC went on a hiring spree after teacher unions said no staff or teacher would return to schools without a nurse in every school. Mayor DiBlasio recently confirmed the city had secured enough nurses.

Before the outbreak, a quarter of schools across the country did not have a nurse at all. Now, nurses will be in charge of evaluating children for any symptoms such as a runny nose or coughing and will be communicating with parents if virus cases emerge. Parents are concerned about the ability to control the spread of infections in schools.

A Study offers insight on what to expect when schools open.

In a large study done in South Korea, they have found that children younger than ten can transmit the virus less often than adults, and children between the ages of ten to fourteen can spread the virus as much as adults. According to this study, if schools reopen, there will be new clusters of infections. As of today, the study done in Korea remains to be one of the best studies done according to health experts.

In places like Finland, their school year began only a few days ago. During their lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, children of essential workers and children with special needs still attended school. The schools implemented strict guidelines on social distancing. Currently, Finland has a total of 143 cases per 100,000 and 3 per 100,000 within the last seven days. When there are few or low rates of infections, Finland shows the world that  schools can successfully reopen without the fear of new outbreaks.

How fast can NYC test and get positive results back?

Schools in NYC need to figure out how and when to test both students and staff. Many students in NYC rely on school buses for transportation. Bus drivers will need to get tested frequently to guarantee the safety of every kid coming into the building and leaving the school building. Schools must also figure out how long people should quarantine after a positive test shows up. As of recently, there is no answer from both Governor Cuomo and Mayor DiBlasio regarding test capacity and how long results will take to hear back.

Outdoor Learning, The New Norm

On Monday, August 24th, Mayor DiBlasio announced schools in NYC are open to using public streets and parks for outdoor learning. School principals who want to use outdoor space must apply to the Education Department and must apply by August 28th in order to receive a response before school starts. Schools will work alongside the Transportation and Parks department to ensure the safety of everyone. In neighborhoods struck hard by the coronavirus, they will get the priority to make sure schools have enough space for students to learn outdoors. 

With the new school year starting in less than three weeks, Mayor DiBlasio is facing pressure from principals and teachers to delay in-person instruction at schools. DiBlasio is deciding to open schools part-time, with students showing up physically to schools a few days a week. Outdoor learning can provide students a new learning experience and hopefully a successful one as well. NYC is one of the only school districts in the country to open schools and as September 10th approaches, politicans and school superintendents will closely watch to see if their plans work. If so, the city hopes to be an example for the rest of the country to follow in their footsteps to guarantee a successful school year.

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