NYC Parents Question Reasons Behind School COVID-19 Rules

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
September 15, 2021 Updated: September 16, 2021

With the school year having barely started, New York City parents already have issues with the measures the state has put into place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

It only takes one positive case for an entire class to be sent home for 10 days. Some parents question the rationale behind the policy, saying children should be able to remain in class if they test negative themselves.

Sept. 13 was the first day of school, welcoming children in New York City and other districts for the first time since the pandemic started in 2020.

The city and state governments faced pressure from parents to fully reopen the city’s public schools for in-person learning, despite objections from teacher’s unions.

The plan materialized with a litany of restrictions in place, including three-foot distancing when possible, mandatory masks, and no indoor lunch or talking during lunch, as well as a ban on extracurricular activities such as sports, band, and choir. A random 10 percent of students whose parents consented will be tested every two weeks.

The masks and some of the other requirements are already problematic for many parents who see them as unnecessary, given the low chance of children getting seriously ill from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.

Now, they see in-person learning turning into a mirage as even a single positive test for the virus among students relegates all of his or her “close contacts” to virtual-only instruction for 10 days.

“Day 2 of school. A positive case was found in daughter’s classroom. 25 kids now have remote school for 10 days,” Jill Goldstein, who has a child in one of the city schools, wrote in a Sept. 14 tweet.

“This is unacceptable.”

The state considers a “close contact” any student who spent a total of 15 minutes over the prior 24 hours within 3-6 feet of an infected person, unless “both students were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting masks.” Schools have the option to cut the 15-minute limit down to a shorter period.

In Goldstein’s view, any “close contacts” need to be tested and, if negative, should be able to stay in school.

It’s likely most children would be allowed to stay. A study that looked at more than 36,000 NYC students marked as “close contacts” last fall found less than 200 tested positive.

“We found that in-person learning in NYC public schools was not associated with increased prevalence or incidence overall of COVID-19 infection compared with the general community,” the study concluded.

Abigail Barker, spokeswoman for the New York State health department, told The Epoch Times via email that “students may test out of isolation and return to the classroom,” referring to the department’s School Guidance (pdf).

The guidance says schools must set up regulations in line with the guidance on the issue from Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC).

The CDC guidance, in turn, says that unvaccinated “close contacts” can at best cut the quarantine down to 7 days, if they test negative on day 6 or later.

The vaccines so far aren’t available for children under 12.

The “close contact” policy is counterproductive, Goldstein argued, because it discourages parents from allowing their children to be tested.

“Parents are rescinding/not signing testing consent. Many parents have come to me privately … to tell me that they will not test their kids unless the child has symptoms,” she wrote in a Sept. 15 Twitter thread. “So essentially your policy PROMOTES less testing in order to keep classrooms open. The same kids whose parents gave consent will just be tested over and over all year.”

Some parents say strict school restrictions stand in contrast to the relatively more lenient rules for adults.

“Adults in the United States are largely moving on with their lives, going to football games, concerts, and galas—while kids are treated like lepers,” New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz commented.

One online jokester suggested replacing desks in classrooms with restaurant tables, suggesting children could then remove their masks while seated, just as adults at restaurants can.

Barker said the school “mask requirements have been enacted to protect the health and safety of all staff and students, particularly those who are not eligible to be vaccinated.”

The New York City education departments didn’t respond to a request for comment. The New York State education department referred questions to the state health department.

Update: The article has been updated with a response form the New York State Department of Health.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.