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The Department of Education was already reporting dozens of cases among staff and a handful among students prior September 13th, the first day for public school in New York City. Attention is squarely focused on whether the city’s COVID-19 protocols will be enough to protect pupils, teachers and support staff from the highly transmissible delta variant. Parents and health experts have voiced concerns about changes to the city’s testing strategy, which now allows unvaccinated children to opt out of routine tests and attend school in person.
According to education department policy, elementary school classrooms will close for 10 days if one occupant tests positive for the virus. In middle and high schools, a positive test will prompt a “partial classroom closure,” in which only unvaccinated or symptomatic children will be asked to stay home. Confirmed infections among non-classroom staff, meanwhile, will require only a “non-classroom quarantine” by the affected people.
The city’s health department says an entire school building will only close when there is evidence of “widespread transmission,” but it hasn’t publicly defined what that means. The decision marks a departure from last school year’s policy, which mandated that schools close after reporting two- or four cases that could be tied to exposure inside a single building.
The city kicked off the school year with more than 100 classrooms closed, many of them in charter schools that started classes weeks earlier. The education department reports about 58,600 classrooms in its system.
The vast majority of 58,600 classrooms have what the city describes as “operational” ventilation systems, which health experts and officials alike have identified as a critical tool for combating the spread of the coronavirus.
Despite a promise that all classrooms would have adequate fresh air in time for the start of school, more than 1,000 classrooms are still undergoing repairs, according to data from the Department of Education. In about a dozen buildings, fewer than half of classrooms are marked as “operational” in ventilation reports published by the city.