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UFT Solidarity Calls Out Inadequate Testing and Tracing in City Schools



Lydia Howrilka (917) 705-5699

Quinn Zannoni solidaritycaucus@gmail.com

NEW YORK: UFT Solidarity’s membership has declared no-confidence in the City’s handling of the COVID pandemic as evidenced by inadequate testing and tracing happening in elementary and District 75 schools. UFT Solidarity has been collecting anecdotal and over 93% of those reporting have claimed that testing and tracing are problematic and are being done poorly in schools. As NYC’s 7-day average positivity rate surpasses 9%, the Solidarity Caucus of the United Federation of Teachers calls for the DOE to follow through on the Governor’s guidance and transition to fully remote learning for all NYC public schools because testing and tracing protocols are highly irregular in NYC public schools. Please see our findings attached.

Alarmingly, both Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio have recently suggested ditching the 9% threshold. Governor Andrew Cuomo remarked that data shows schools are “almost without exception” safe for students and staff alike. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week that New York City public schools “can and should” be kept open since they have partially reopened earlier this month – boasting that recent testing showed just a 0.68% coronavirus positivity rate in schools. But the school system’s positivity rate only appears low because it is based on a random sample of staff and students, versus the higher citywide rate comprised of individuals self-reporting, many of whom are often already symptomatic. Though our elected representatives may play fast and loose with statistics, the inescapable reality is that as citywide rates increase, so do instances of COVID exposure at schools.

UFT Solidarity has collected reports from over 50 school sites across the City regarding testing and tracing irregularities. Numerous schools receive no testing over the course of the school week. Other schools experience hurried encounters with DOH in which fewer than the required 20% of staff and students are tested. The DOE is in stark violation of its 48-hour turnaround time for test results, with many schools receiving results after 5 days or longer, calling into question the purported usefulness of the testing itself. At some schools, a limited number of students and staff receive weekly tests on a repeat basis while others are never called to the testing room. Other schools disregard the City’s protocols for pre-selecting 20% of staff and students and merely test based on a first-come-first-served basis.

Over 56 schools have reported testing improprieties to UFT Solidarity using our form. 93% of them have claimed that there are irregularities in testing at their elementary and District 75 schools. There have been reports that whole cohorts and classes of students have not been tested since before the Winter Break. Other schools have claimed that the City Health Department testers only test a tiny fraction of students and faculty before abruptly leaving the campus. 

Reopening after the Thanksgiving Recess exemplified the dangers of entering school buildings with citywide rates exceeding 3%. During the two weeks that buildings opened in December, a total of 272 Department of Education buildings temporarily closed due to coronavirus cases among students and staff, and over 1,000 had classrooms shut down. Well over half of reopened City schools and Learning Bridges sites were affected in some way by COVID.

The testing program being touted as our secret weapon against COVID has also had its share of problems. Students and educators are randomly tested in each open school building once a week, and the monthly total of those tested must add up to 20 percent of the school’s total population. This testing regime—including the frequency, quality and reliability of results—is largely considered a joke by New York City educators and parents. The test turnaround time that was promised to be 24-48 hours, is taking closer to 5 days. This means that people who might be positive for COVID-19 are reporting to work and school without quarantining at home.

In Europe, medics are starting to see “whole wards of children” suffering from COVID for the first time during a pandemic. There is clear evidence that this new highly infectious strain of COVID is affecting much younger children with no underlying health condition. Additionally, the CDC has reversed its prior statement that schools are considered safe. Dr. Anthony Fauci advises Americans to avoid indoor gatherings and indoor dining for the near future.

After examining the city’s safety plan and recalling the track record of city officials thus far, public school educators affiliated with the second-largest caucus of the United Federation of Teachers have concluded that too many students, families and staff will become sick if the current position on keeping schools open despite how high the infection rate is in New York State and New York City is.

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