Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Meisha Porter celebrated on Monday when high schools reopened, making it the first time since November that schools from pre-K to 12th grade were allowing students back into classrooms.
Yet not every school was able to open its doors.
“Yesterday, 245 of the supposedly open school buildings were closed because of COVID cases, and in the vast majority of cases it's my understanding that that is because of the two case rule,” City Councilman Brad Lander pointed out on Tuesday.
The city rule requires an entire school to close for up to 10 days if it has two unrelated COVID-19 cases in separate classrooms at the same time. By Tuesday, the number had grown to 253 schools closed.
But the mandate faces increasing scrutiny, from parents and now from City Council members who pressed Porter about it on Tuesday at her first hearing as chancellor.
“Those hundreds of thousands of kids in the classrooms, if they're closed like every other day, when there were no cases in their classrooms, they're not getting the benefit of in person learning, they're not getting any continuity,” Lander said.
The mayor has been promising news on the rule since early February, but on Tuesday, there was still no timeline.
“We are grounding all decisions in health and safety, but we are really leveraging the new CDC guidance, so really looking closely at the two case rule. And I can tell you every single day that I've been in this seat, all seven of them, we've been talking about ways that we can address that, remediate that, and look at a classrooms differently than we look at a school building,” Porter said.
Porter added the city was working with labor partners on the issue. The teachers union has so far been reluctant to change the rule.
Perhaps a sign of growing frustration, the issue was raised by Council members across the political spectrum — from Lander, a progressive Brooklyn Democrat, to Joe Borelli, a conservative Staten Island Republican.
“What is the determining factor on the two case rule, what are we waiting for? Is there a study, is there a question that needs to be answered, is there a device that needs to be installed in classrooms, what is it?” Borelli asked.
In response, city Education Department officials offered few specifics. But Porter says the message was received.
“I promise we’re coming back with the two case rule, and we hear it loud and clear from every council member,” she said.