NYC Schools Can Hold In-Person Classes, Bucking National Trend

New York City has permission to become the only major U.S. school system to hold in-person classes this fall, after Governor Andrew Cuomo said classrooms statewide could remain open with tight precautions.

Parents of pupils in New York City have until Friday to decide whether to opt out and begin the year with all remote learning.

“By our infection rates, all school districts can open,” Cuomo said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Everywhere in the state, every region is below the threshold that we established, which is just great news.”

The state conducted 70,000 tests on Aug. 6, of which 1% were positive, Cuomo said. There were 5 virus-related fatalities and 579 hospitalizations as of Aug. 6, according to the latest state data.

The largest U.S. system, with 1.1 million students, is defying a national rush to online education. The spring’s scuttled semester had parents struggling to work and teach their children simultaneously, forced businesses to navigate those conflicts, and kept the virus-wracked country that much further away from normality.

Major school districts that have opted for virtual instruction for at least the start of the year include Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta and Houston. But Cuomo said New York is ready.

“We are probably in the best situation than any other state in the country right now,” Cuomo said. “If anybody can open schools, we can open schools.”

The decisions about travel, business and education are being made against unrelenting pressure from Trump, whose theories on the topic aren’t always supported by his own health experts.

“This thing’s going away — it will go away like things go away and my view is that schools should be open,” Trump said Wednesday on Fox News. Children “are virtually immune from this problem. And we have to open our schools.”

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has rejected this claim. There are parts of the country where schools shouldn’t open to in-person teaching, the doctor told Bloomberg Television on Wednesday, and testing for the disease needs to improve, especially in the speed to obtain results.

A New York City Department of Education survey to which 400,000 parents responded said 75% wanted their children to return to school. Mayor Bill de Blasio had said New York City wouldn’t open schools unless the city remains below a 3% citywide infection rate over a seven day rolling average.

“We are trying to maximize in-person learning for the good of our kids because we know it makes a world of difference,” de Blasio said during a news briefing Monday Aug. 3. “Nothing replaces in-person learning.”

A city plan called for cleaning schools during the day and at night, with enforced social distancing in classrooms and hallways, mandatory face coverings for all, featuring hand washing and hand sanitizer stations. “I feel like we’re where we need to be to get ready for opening day,” de Blasio said during an interview on NY1, a local all-news cable channel.

Studies of Children

There is conflicting data about how Covid-19 is transmitted to and from children,

A study published in the Journal of theAmerican Medical Association last month suggests infected kids with even just mild symptoms can still have 10 to 100 times the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in their noses and throats as older kids or adults, making them more likely to spread it. An earlier Chinese study, however, found that most children with Covid-19 admitted to a hospital lived in households with previously infected adults, indicating the child caught the virus from the adult rather than transmitting it.

A small number of kids have died or required intensive care as a result of either the respiratory failure commonly associated with the virus or an inflammatory condition sometimes described as similar to Kawasaki disease that causes heart or circulatory problems.

That leaves school officials largely at the mercy of their local health officials for guidance. In Chicago,the district will work with the city Department of Public Health to assess if it is safe to open with hybrid learning in the second quarter on Nov. 9.

Exposing Inequities

The economic effects of keeping children out of school go beyond matters of convenience and pocketbook. They also expose imbalances in the economy, with some children unable to access the Internet as easily as others.

“The first-order short-term economic impacts will be likely centered around what this does to families needing childcare; loss of school meals for the kids making hunger worse; and whatever furloughing the district is doing,” saidDiane Schanzenbach, professor at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. “Long term, the costs of all of this lost learning will be with us for decades.”

Senate Republicans have proposed a bill that would provide $70 billion to K-12 schools, but that may not be enough to safely reopen, or even to go remote and provide needed tech to low-income families. More than$116 billion will be needed to safely reopen the nation’s public schools, according to an estimate from theAmerican Federation of Teachers union.

The teacher’s unions have beenlobbying heavily against in-person school, citing budget restraints and health risks for staff and pupils.

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