NYC Teachers Union Calls for Weekly COVID-19 Testing for Children Younger Than 12

By GQ Pan
GQ Pan
GQ Pan
September 20, 2021 Updated: September 20, 2021

New York City’s teachers union is calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to intensify COVID-19 testing efforts on children younger than 12 years old, who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated.

In a letter to the mayor, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew argued that the city should restore its previous testing frequency. Under the most recent guidelines from the city’s education department, random testing was reduced to 10 percent of unvaccinated students on a biweekly basis from the 2020 weekly requirement of 20 percent of the school population.

“I am concerned that this year’s reduced frequency of COVID testing means that thousands of children will spend days in classrooms without the early warning system that last year made our schools among the safest places in the community,” Mulgrew said.

Mulgrew noted that fewer than half of the city’s more than 1,800 schools and sites were tested in the first week of class and that 663 classrooms have been fully or partially closed. He said that number would likely be even higher “if the city had a thorough and rigorous weekly testing protocol.”

“Because current testing is biweekly, hundreds of other schools will not get a visit from a testing team until the coming week. Meanwhile students in untested schools—including children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated—could be needlessly exposed to the virus,” he wrote.

In response, the de Blasio administration indicated that the current testing procedure is sufficient.

“Last week, we successfully and safely opened our schools to all New York City students for the first time in 18 months,” an Education Department statement reads. “We will continue to base our health and safety protocols off the guidance of our medical experts and in the best interest of our school communities.”

The UFT letter comes after an East Harlem school for students with disabilities was temporarily closed due to the “possible widespread exposure and transmission,” after a dozen COVID-19 cases were found among staff members.

The school, Public School 79, is switching to online instruction until Sept. 28. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the positive cases were linked to a preschool orientation.

New York City on Sept. 13 reopened its classroom doors to nearly 1 million students, many of whom were returning for the first time since March 2020, when the pandemic prompted the nation’s largest public school system to close.

Roughly 40 percent of New York City’s public school students went back into their classrooms this past spring, after city officials allowed families to opt between remote or in-person learning. In a change of course, however, de Blasio announced that the remote option would no longer be available in the fall and that all students would attend school in-person, with few exemptions for those with certain medical conditions.

GQ Pan