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  4.  » The Weekly Pulse: What to Expect as The Nation’s Largest School District Reopens

On March 15, 2020, our nation’s largest school district underwent a historic transformation by closing all of its school buildings in order to protect our 1.1 million students, staff members, families, and fellow New Yorkers from the spreading of COVID-19. Finally, after months of speculation and online distance learning, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York Schools can physically welcome students to school. When Governor Cuomo made the announcement, he gave schools the option to open under a blended learning model that includes students being taught in-schools part of the week and virtually at-home for the remaining days of the week. 

The Department of Health was responsible for determining which school districts could open and which ones had to remain closed and facilitate classes strictly online. The determination of how individual school districts reopened were made under strict Department of Health guidelines. According to the guidelines, schools in each district could physically open their doors so long as the overall COVID-19 infection rate remained below 5% over a two-week period before the official school start date. Rigorous testing revealed that every district in the State of New York passed the State’s testing threshold of less than 5% over a two-week testing period. Despite every school district in New York State passing the State’s threshold, extra precautions were still taken which included reviewing every school’s reopening plans prior to granting final approval for reopening. 

New York City Public Schools officially reopened on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.  School districts across the state finalized social distancing strategies to be used inside school buildings. School officials are focused on mandating the use of face mask and social distancing; employing a sufficient number of nurses to staff school buildings; upgrading or replacing existing ventilation systems in classrooms; and improving the remote instruction plans since many educators did not have much time to perfect online learning when schools suddenly closed last Spring. 

Here is a breakdown of what we know has been instituted so far since the reopening the school districts:

  • Mayor De Blasio approved the official first day for all New York City Public Schools to reopen on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.
  • The New York Department of Education (“DOE”) has instructed schools to perform random temperature screening checks. Any student who registers higher than 100.0 degrees during the screening check will be prohibited from entering the building. COVID-19 Testing is a major component of the school reopening plan and DOE is asking all school staffers to get tested at least seven days prior to the school opening then once a month after school is in session.
  • The New York DOE is mandating that face coverings must be worn at all times except while eating or drinking. Students who refuse to wear a mask for personal – rather than medical or developmental – reasons will be sent home.
    • The New York DOE is delivering their educational program through a blended learning model that includes students being taught in-schools part of the week and virtually at-home the remaining days of the week. The Virtual learning model is a mandatory component of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 plan for those students who suffer from certain underlying health conditions or is immunocompromised.
  • In the event of a COVID-19 outbreaks the DOE has released a plan for schools  involving contact tracing and other possible scenarios such as: 14 days self-quarantine for a single positive case in a single classroom or two cases in two different classrooms. However, any infection rate beyond that would require the entire school to be closed for 14 days and a shift to full remote learning for the entire student body.
  • Every school building will be deep cleaned nightly with electrostatic sprayers that dispense disinfectant that adheres to surfaces without physically contact. The DOE has placed an initial order of 11,000 cases of hand sanitizer and 100,000 cases of disinfectant wipes, in addition to disposable face masks for students and staff, and many other cleaning supplies.

Schools are an important part of any community and play an essential role in supporting a child’s overall development and academic achievement. Hence, parents will be depending on School Administrators to provide guidance on how they intend to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of students, teachers, and staff. This school year will be like none other hence whether choosing to home-school your child or sending them into a school building, we’ve come up with a checklist to help parents, guardians and caregivers, plan and prepare for a successful school year. 

  • Every morning examine your child for signs of illness. If you detect a body temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, keep your child at home and if possible, attend classes remotely. If these symptoms persist or progress beyond 24 hours take your child to see a doctor.
  • If your child has had close contact with a COVID-19 case, keep them home and if possible, attend classes remotely.
  • Train family members to habitually wash their hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds throughout the day, especially before and after eating, sneezing, coughing, and adjusting a mask or cloth face covering.

  • Talk to your child about precautions to exercise while in school. Encourage them to:
    • Wear a face mask at all times except when eating or drinking.
    • Keep physical distance from other students.
    • Avoid sharing objects with other students, including water bottles, devices, toys, cellphones, air pods, earpieces, writing instruments, and books.
    • Wash their hands with soap and warm water as often as possible.
    • Use hand sanitizer (that contains at least 60% alcohol). Make sure you’re using a safe product. FDA recalled products that contain toxic methanol. Monitor how they feel and tell an adult if they are not feeling well.
  • Now that schools are in session, we encourage every caregiver to speak to their child (regardless of age) about the importance of these precautions to keep everyone safe and healthy.
  • The CDC has prepared a Stress and Coping During the COVID-19 Pandemic guide that provides additional resources for you and your family. Consult your School Administrator should you need access to mental health or behavioral services (i.e. – social skills training, counseling) for your child.

We at The Law Offices of Marjory Cajoux hope the above information has further empowered you to make some sound choices for safety of you and your family. Our hope is that you will continue to be safe, continue practicing social distancing, and put these tips and advice into application in your daily routine and strive for your best life. 

Additional Resources: 

CDC – Back to School Planning: Checklists to Guide Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers.

N.Y. Schools Can Reopen, Cuomo Says in Contrast with Much of U.S.

New York City Department of Education – Welcome to the 2021 School Year