NEW YORK - When New York City public schools reopened last fall, many of them proceeded to then close again and again because of a rule mandating an entire building close for two weeks or 10 days with two unrelated coronavirus cases in the building.
Parents say the "two-case rule" led to constant chaos and disruption.
"It's awful, schools close continuously and they close randomly, you often find out about the closures as late as 10 p.m. at night which is after your kids have gone to bed, maybe even some parents have gone to bed," said Daniela Jampel, a mom to a 7-year-old and a parent organizer with the group Keep Schools Open.
Her child's school has been closed about eight weeks of this school year because of the two-case rule. After she and other parents spent months appealing to the city to drop it, officials are finally listening.
"The tides have changed and we're looking forward to bringing more consistency to our schools," NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday said the school system would drop the two-case rule and replace it with a new, yet-to-be-announced rule, which he promised would be less disruptive.
"A lot of parents have said to us the two-case rule obviously has led to an extraordinary amount of school closures," de Blasio said. "What we do know is, moving off of two cases is going to lead to schools being open a lot more consistently, that we can say with assurance."
The mayor said his administration will be meeting with union officials to finalize a new plan in the coming days, but Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said not so fast.
"A proclamation is not a plan. The city can't change the two-case rule without Albany's approval. Thanks to the effectiveness and availability of vaccines, the percentage of adults testing positive for COVID has declined," Mulgew said in a statement. "But students now account for two-thirds of the new infections. We have been talking to our medical experts, and we will continue to discuss these issues with the city. Any change to the two-case rule has to take the safety of children and their families into account, not the Mayor's need for a Monday morning announcement."
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While the COVID positivity rate is extremely low in New York City schools, national health officials are sounding the alarm on virus variants infecting children more easily.
"As more schools are reopening it's even more important to make sure they do so safely," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Monday.
Jampel and other parents agree that safety is paramount but also say school closures shouldn't be arbitrary.
"There's no magic number for which schools should close," she said. "Scientists are very clear on that, epidemiologists are very clear on that."
Parents have one last chance to opt their children back in to in-person learning this school year. With the elimination of that rule, city officials are extending the deadline for parents to opt-in from this Wednesday to Friday, April 9. It's not clear if the new closure rule will be announced by then.
Schools in New York City have adjusted their physical distancing rules in accordance with new CDC guidelines.
Students can safely sit just three feet apart in the classroom as long as they are wearing masks but should be kept the usual six feet apart from each other at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, according to the CDC.