New York mayor Bill de Blasio insisted on Thursday that the city was prepared to reopen its public school district, one day after the city’s largest teachers union threatened to strike if its demands regarding the reopening were not met.
Educators “know kids are suffering right now. They need support, they need what educators can give them, they need positive adult role models and counselors….They need that desperately,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “It cannot be done the same way remotely even slightly.”
The mayor continued, “We may be talking about a whole school year we don’t have a vaccine. Imagine kids going a full year without the best quality education that can only be provided in person, and the support that educators and school staff give.”
De Blasio also noted that healthcare workers, transit workers, and other essential employees have gone to work throughout the pandemic despite the risks involved. “Public servants show up and serve people: that’s what our constituents depend on,” the mayor said.
New York City public schools comprise the largest school district in the U.S., serving over 1.1 million students. Tens of thousands of those students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch, and many rely on school cafeterias for hot meals.
The mayor’s remarks came after the president of the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s largest teachers union with over 75,000 members, threatened to strike unless certain demands are met, including providing schools with N95 masks and requiring students to take antibody tests before entering school.
“We don’t believe it is possible for schools to open on September 10,” UFT president Thomas Mulgrew said. “It might be one of the biggest debacles in the history of the city.”
The New York City Department of Education has been preparing for the reopening over the summer, implementing health plans and guidance that includes a nightly deep-cleaning of school buildings, installing HVAC air filters, and other measures.
Schools will not reopen if the percentage of positive coronavirus tests in New York City is above a 3 percent seven-day rolling average. Currently, the city’s testing positivity rates are remarkably low, with 0.24 percent testing positive on August 17, the lowest percentage since the start of the pandemic.