New York City public schools will no longer be required to close following two reported and unrelated cases of COVID-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday, abolishing the so-called “two-case rule” that has led to numerous schools having to suddenly shift to remote learning for weeks and creating inconsistency and confusion for families and students.
The change comes during the city’s last opt-in window for families to choose whether to switch to in-person learning.
The city is extending the window by two days -- from Wednesday to Friday, April 9 -- to allow families to reconsider their decision in light of the two-case rule being eliminated.
However, de Blasio did not offer any indication of what kind of rule would replace it, and did not commit to releasing the new rule before the Friday deadline.
What You Need To Know
- The city is retiring a rule that required public schools to close fully after reporting two unrelated COVID-19 cases
- The change comes after months of complaints from parents, who have voiced frustration over repeated closures
- The rule change is meant to encourage parents to enroll their children for in-person learning. This week is their last chance to do so for this school year
De Blasio said that he believes parents will choose to enroll their students in in-person learning because they know the two-case rule is being retired.
“We know that the two-case rule has led to a number of schools being closed that could have been kept open,” he said. “We want to come up with a rule that makes more sense.”
The rule, which has reportedly caused nearly 2,400 extended school building closures this school year, according to a city count, has been a major source of frustration for parents, leading to days this year when hundreds of school buildings were closed at a time due to the rule. 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.
Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said in early March that the Department of Education was reconsidering the rule. In late March, following on further outcry from parents, City Council members across the political spectrum called for the rule to be changed.
Porter said that in her visits to schools she heard students and parents call for the rule to be changed.
“I saw it for myself that our schools are safe, and I heard one request over and over again: […] improve the stability and consistency of instruction by changing the two-case rule,” she said.
Porter said that she hopes that adding two extra days to the opt-in window will give parents who are leery of the stop-and-start nature of learning over the past year to consider enrolling their child for in-person instruction.
“I know what it means to have to make quick adjustments,” Porter said. “I know what it means to have to adapt overnight and find childcare.”
Officials with the United Federation of Teachers, the union that represents city education personnel, originally pushed for the rule last summer, when teachers were threatening to strike ahead of the school year. They have continued to defend the rule, saying it protects teachers and students given ongoing risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Michael Mulgrew, the president of the UFT, suggested in a statement that the city would need approval from the state government to rescind the rule, and that students are responsbile for the majority of infections in schools.
"We have been talking to our medical experts, and we will continue to discuss these issues with the city," Mulgrew said. "Any change to the two-case rule has to take the safety of children and their families into account, not the Mayor’s need for a Monday morning announcement.”
Yet positivity rates in schools have remained low even amid a city-wide spike in infections and cases through the winter, according to a study conducted by the city.
The current test positivity level in schools is 0.56%, according to city health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. The city’s seven-day rolling overage for test positivity is 6.55%.
Chokshi pointed to the number of vaccinated Department of Education staff -- 65,000 who have reported their immunizations -- as another reason why the rule can be relaxed.
“When adults in schools are vaccinated, children in school are even safer,” Chokshi said.
De Blasio said that a successor rule will be announced in the “coming days.”
“We got a little more work to do on the new rule,” he said. “We do want to talk to all of the organizations, the unions that represent the folks who work in our schools.”