Open Letter to NYC Leaders Regarding Arbitrary Two Case Closure Rule
#KeepNYCSchoolsOpen Demands the City Immediately Discontinue “Two Unlinked Cases” Rule
We are a group of New York City public elementary school parents with children enrolled in blended learning. We are writing to you because we have reached a breaking point due to the city’s “two unlinked cases” rule that triggers a 10-day shutdown of a school building. We demand an immediate halt to the use of this rule.
Under this rule, if two unlinked cases of COVID-19 are found within a public school building within a seven day period, no matter its size or population, the Department of Education (DOE) closes all schools co-located within that building for 10 days. This overly conservative and unnecessarily disruptive rule is the biggest hindrance to keeping the City’s public elementary and District 75 schools open.
City mismanagement of the “two unlinked cases” rule has also needlessly and repeatedly robbed our students of their invaluable in-person days by failing to count weekends and holidays during the 10-day closure, resulting in closures that can last for 12 days, or longer.
We are further dismayed and angered to learn that the City’s main bargaining partner in establishing and maintaining this rule — the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) — supports this rule precisely because it wants schools to close. During a January 13 meeting of delegates, UFT President Michael Mulgrew called numerous school closings “positive,” adding:
“271 schools, 100 classes closed today. This means our program is working … We need to shut them down and our testing program was designed to do that.”
Mulgrew also admits that doctors advised the union that shutting down a school for two unlinked cases was unnecessary if schools followed protocols that are currently in place, such as masks, social distancing, and small cohorts: “Doctors have said if you do everything else you can keep them open, but I said no.”
The application of this rule’s extremely low threshold has resulted in destructive consequences for well over one thousand individual schools, and for the daily lives and education of the 190,000 pre-K through fifth grade and District 75 children and families who are subject to it. We share with you three real-life examples of these consequences, plucked from dozens of stories shared by distraught families:
Example 1: A Park Slope, Brooklyn, elementary school with an in-school population of 936 students and staff tested 241 people on December 8. Because 2 of the 241 (less than 1%) tested positive, the entire school was shut down for 14 days.
Example 2: An elementary school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, reported a positive case on December 20th. It reported a second positive case on December 28th, five days into Winter Break, when school was not in session and had not been in session since December 23rd. Nevertheless, the DOE, via its Situation Room, closed the school starting December 28th until January 12th, 2021. This resulted in a 19-day closure because the Situation Room did not include December 24–27 in the closure period.
Example 3: Testing at co-located elementary schools in Washington Heights, Manhattan on December 9, 2020 revealed two positive cases in one school, and one positive case in the other school. The Situation Room closed both schools for the rest of December.
Then, on January 4 — the first day back from Winter Break — one teacher in one school tested positive. On January 8, one teacher in the other school tested positive. The Situation Room closed both schools for 12 days, failing to count a weekend. Accordingly, students at these schools have attended 5 total days of school since November 17, despite no additional positive cases.
To our knowledge, not a single school district in New York State, the United States, or the world has adopted the rule that two positive cases trigger a 10-day shutdown of an entire building. And with good reason: aside from being overly conservative and destructive to the education and lives of children and their families, the “two unlinked cases” rule has done nothing to reduce the rate of community spread.
In fact, when the City shuts down school buildings, students and staff not in the exposed classes are not directed to quarantine at home. These students can, and do, still attend their city-run Learning Bridges programs, or they fan out across their communities to the homes of babysitters, neighbors, family members, their parents’ workplaces, and other congregate settings. These places lack the COVID mitigation strategies that are required in our public schools. As Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly stated, the safest place for our kids to be is in school. And yet, school is the one place they cannot be.
As public school parents, oftentimes with multiple children in different schools, we are struggling. The Mayor has rightfully fought to safely open some City public schools. But the reality is that the majority of our schools are closed. All middle and high schools are closed indefinitely, with no plans to reopen. And the “two unlinked cases” rule has ensured that our elementary and District 75 schools will continue to unnecessarily close, upending the routines, educations, and livelihoods of the families who chose an in-person education.
We demand that the City abandon the “two unlinked cases” rule and instead adopt sensible, evidence-based policies meant to keep schools open.
Daniela Jampel, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, Carly Maready, Elga Castro
Sent via e-mail on January 21, 2021 to:
Mayor Bill de Blasio BdeBlasio@cityhall.nyc.gov
Dr. Jay Varma firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Dave Chokshi email@example.com
Dr. Ted Long Theodore.Long@nychhc.org
Mr. Michael Mulgrew firstname.lastname@example.org
Chancellor Richard A. Carranza RCarranza@schools.nyc.gov