On the heels of the city’s announcement that it is loosening rules requiring public schools to close if multiple students test positive for COVID-19, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), assured parents with students in city-run schools the move will result in fewer closures while also keeping children and staff as safe as possible.
In an interview with Inside City Hall anchor Errol Louis, Mulgrew said because vaccines are becoming more readily available and with positivity rates dropping, the union's doctors said there needs to be a shift from focusing on what is not known outside of a school to focusing on what is known inside a school.
“Now, we can actually, because of our amount of testing and contact tracing, we should be able to make sure that a school never has what we call a rapid COVID spread inside of it. So we had to switch now to looking at that inside piece," Mulgrew said. “From the data that we have, looking at the number of cases that we’ve been dealing with on a daily basis, with this new program, we should definitely not be closing the same amount of schools.”
Mulgrew added that schools should now have a "greater protection," and that they can say to parents and staff and families that "our schools will continue to be the safest place for people to be in a community."
The program, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio Thursday morning, states that schools will close for 10 days if testing shows four or more cases in multiple classrooms within a period of seven days that Test and Trace investigators tie to a known exposure within the school itself.
In cases where there are multiple schools in one building, only the school with the positive COVID-19 tests will close, and not the entire building.
When asked how many members of the UFT have been inoculated against COVID-19, Mulgrew said while they do not have that data, he feels “comfortable” saying that over 50,000 members have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
On the state of in-person learning at some city schools, some critics have been quick to deride what they call “Zoom in a room” — where students use laptops inside classrooms and are taught by a teacher not physically present. When asked about it, Mulgrew said that that scenario was a complication of the city's hybrid learning policy.
"Teachers are frustrated," he said. "They're like, 'One period, I'm teaching standing up, next period, I'm teaching in front of a screen in a school building.'"
He said the union will push next school year for students to learn either fully in person at school, or learn fully remotely, instead of a hybrid model.
Mulgrew also talked about the mayor's race, a day after the UFT hosted a forum for four Democratic candidates. He said the union will announce its endorsement in the next two weeks. He also said the organization would consider a ranked-choice endorsement, but added that he did not believe the union should "at this moment."