Teachers in New York City are blaming Mayor Bill de Blasio and his education chief, Richard Carranza, for helping to spread the coronavirus by leaving students and staff in the dark about reported cases.
Officials with the state education department issued a directive on March 9 that encouraged schools with positive cases of coronavirus to shut down for at least a day “in order to begin an investigation to determine the contacts that the individual may have had within the school environment,” but critics contend city officials ignored the advice and put students and staff at risk, the New York Post reports.
At least five teachers at Brooklyn Technical High School reported positive coronavirus test results to officials with the United Federation of Teachers a full week before the city finally closed schools on March 16. It was a similar situation at the Grand Street campus, Jamaica High School, Grace Dodge High School, and the Alfred E. Smith campus, according to the news site.
“The DOE did not close the school for any of the cases,” UFT chapter leader Nate Bonheimer said. “They did not alert the people who needed to know the most to protect themselves, their families and everyone else they came into contact with.”
New York City now accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s coronavirus cases with 13,119 infected as of Tuesday, including 125 who have died as of Monday night, the Post reports
The worldwide total is quickly approaching 400,000, with more than 17,000 deaths.
School officials who discussed the pandemic with the Post contend the de Blasio administration could have done more to slow the spread, but instead resisted calls to close down the 1.1 million student school system.
“You say equity and excellence, but every other school district closed before you did. You had these kids like petri dishes spreading this to their families,” an administrator complained.
“The blood is on their hands,” a city DOE staffer told the Post.
The news site obtained an email sent to school administrators on March 10 that actually encouraged them not to report confirmed cases of coronavirus to the city health department.
“At the moment, there is no reason for any school to call [the Health Department] to report potential or confirmed cases,” Carranza wrote.
Carranza said labs would report test results to the health department, and suggested school officials should help “by keeping their phones clear.”
Aaron Carroll, a health researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine told the Post “the chancellor was not properly following state policy” with the directive, which he described as dangerous.
As a result, schools remained open for days or weeks despite confirmed cases of coronavirus among students and staff.
At the Grand Street campus, a teacher who returned from a trip to China in late February did not self-quarantine and immediately went back to work teaching students at three schools for several days before becoming ill. The schools did not close, parents and staff were not notified, and at least four others became sick, as well.
A relative told the Post the teacher is “very ill, and so is his entire staff.”
“At the Jamaica High School campus, which houses three schools, Carlos Borrero, principal of the High School for Community Leadership, blasted a robocall to parents the Sunday before schools closed for students, reporting the school had ‘one confirmed’ case and another ‘preliminary positive’ case identified over the prior two days — while students attended. One was a teacher, Borrero said,” according to the Post.
At Grace Dodge High School, a teacher self-reported their positive coronavirus test on March 12, but the city did not close the school to students for four days. Teachers worked at the site through last week.
“We asked when students and parents would get notification, and they still haven’t gotten it,” a teacher said.