Credit: Bill Moore photo
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Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks have met their first real test as leaders of one of the nation’s largest school systems during a pandemic, and more recently, an attendance crisis. Adams resolutely said that schools would remain open at Tuesday morning’s briefing.

“Our schools are open,” said Adams. “We were clear from the beginning, and I don’t want anyone to get this mixed up. Our schools are going to remain open. We are not going to do anything that is going to stop our children from coming into schools.”

So far about 16 million doses of vaccines and 2.5 million booster shots have been administered citywide and officials are noticing a decline in the Omicron wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Commissioner Dave Chokshi with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said that the city is on the “downslope from the Omicron Summit” with the seven-day average of daily new cases being under 20,000.

However, the biggest issue in schools was really the severe absence of students after the holidays. As of last week the Department of Education (DOE) revealed there was an overall 23% absence rate, reported the New York Post.

Despite the mass exodus of students, Adams maintained that there would be no move to total remote learning except in certain cases.

“We continue to meet with the DOE to discuss a potential remote learning program for certain groups of students,” said a United Federation of Teachers (UFT) spokesperson.

The UFT said that the city’s public school students who are out sick or isolated due to COVID have the option of “asynchronous remote instruction” and the ability to meet with teachers during office hours, which is not a new policy.

Banks spoke about this pre-existing policy in the briefing, where teachers would post assignments online for children who tested positive. He said that the UFT leadership has been amazing in their partnership. “We have not announced a remote learning option,” said Banks.

In his briefing, Adams talked about upping at-home rapid COVID tests and PCR surveillance testing for students to root out infections in schools, and hopefully quell fears of returning to the classroom. The rapid tests identified 25,000 additional people reported cases, allowing the city to isolate students as needed and slow down rapid spread in classrooms.

“So, we were able to use the science, the facts and not fear to properly deploy resources where they were needed and I’m really proud of that,” said Adams. “And those are thousands of cases that we were able to isolate.

And it prevented thousands of more people from being infected with COVID. They were allowed to protect themselves and protect the school community, while in-person learning continue, while in-person learning continue.”

Adams added that they are looking to identify and assist students that aren’t attending school but also aren’t positive with COVID. He said certain students may have separate issues at home, but that isn’t the general population.

Chokshi said that this semester, with adjusted quarantine policies, they should be on track for better attendance.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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