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New York City teachers’ union still pushing for stringent school closure policy

In New York City, it takes only two unrelated cases of covid-19 to shut down an entire school – a policy the city’s teachers’ union stands behind, despite the lack of evidence that it is necessary. Meanwhile, private schools in the city take a different, less stringent approach.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said he would not agree to change the policy, and also said it was “too soon to know” if schools should follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for leaving 3 feet of space between students instead of 6 feet.

The controversial Department of Education shutdown policy closes schools for 10 days if more than one staff member or student tests positive for covid. On March 23, over 250 school buildings were closed because of the policy, leading to disruption for teachers and students.

A private school in the city told parents it is using different metrics – based on the city’s Department of Health guidelines – and only requires students or teachers to quarantine if they were within six feet of a person with covid for more than 10 minutes during the school day.

As parents grow more frustrated with school closures, teachers’ unions in many of the nation’s largest cities continue to double down on keeping schools closed, or, like the New York City policy, on maintaining very conservative policies on shuttering schools if covid cases are detected.

Over a month ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would reexamine the policy, but so far the city’s education department has kept it in place. That may be because the teachers’ union still supports the policy.

Recently, Andrew Yang, the current frontrunner in the race to replace de Blasio, laid blame on UFT for their role in the slow pace of reopening the city’s schools. 

“I will confess to being a parent that has been frustrated by how slow our schools have been to open, and I do believe that the UFT has been a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open,” he said.

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.