This found its way to my email this morning.
To all of you who will be returning to school buildings next Thursday, I want to take the time to address you directly and to clarify and respond to some of your questions that have come in during the past few days.
You don’t need to be reminded that our District 75 students need in-person education the most — you know what your students need better than anyone. Research shows that students with complex disabilities regress when they don’t attend school in person.
The positivity rate of .49% out of 170,000 in-school virus tests through Nov. 18 attests to our success in keeping our school communities safe. But more frequent testing is the only way forward as the rate of infection in communities throughout the city rises. To reopen safely, the city has agreed to more aggressive testing when you return. Testing will be mandated and weekly. Twenty percent of all staff and students will be tested every week — even in neighborhoods that have very low infection rates. District 75 students will now receive the COVID-19 test from a school nurse they know and trust.
There are only two types of exemptions: a medical exemption and a disability-based exemption.
Anyone has a right under the law to claim a medical exemption in the rare circumstance that a health or medical condition makes COVID-19 testing impossible.
I am glad to report that after several days of intense talks, the city has agreed to adopt a disability-based exemption policy that is not an exemption from being tested for the virus, only an exemption from being tested in school. Parents can request this type of exemption and a DOE psychologist must determine if there is evidence in the student’s records to show that school-based testing would be dangerous or traumatic for the student or dangerous for the person giving the test. Under the new policy, the exempted student must still be tested if selected for the random sample, but the responsibility will rest with the parent or guardian to have the child tested by a private physician or at a city test site. The parent will have seven days to get the child tested and must bring the test results to school.
The DOE has finally stated unequivocally that all children who return to in-person learning must have a signed consent or exemption form on file. I know the paucity of these forms on file at many District 75 schools has been a source of frustration. The DOE told principals this week that no student will be allowed to stay in school for in-person learning without a signed consent or exemption form on file.
Working with students who can't social distance or tolerate masks can be stressful. Increasing the number of District 75 students being tested will protect both our students and you.
This more intensive level of testing is our early warning system, but the most important things that will keep our school communities safe are the safety and health protocols we fought for in September.
The rules for closing school buildings and quarantining staff because of positive cases remain in place: The presence of a COVID-19 case or cases confined to one class will still result in the class moving to remote instruction, while the entire school will go fully remote if there are two or more positive cases in a school that are not linked.
Even before this increase in testing, we had the strongest protections of any school system in the country. Now, they are even stronger. We deserve nothing less, given everything we have been through and what we continue to do each day despite a constantly changing environment and set of circumstances.
Principals have been instructed to reprogram their schools to facilitate as much in-person learning as possible, without sacrificing any of the social distancing or safety requirements. Not all District 75 schools will be able to go five days a week. Safety remains the priority — the ability to accommodate more in-person instruction will vary from school to school, depending on the available staff and space.
There has never been a more trying time to be an educator. Your commitment and your presence speak volumes. Thank you for being there for your students and being someone who they can count on.
Please call the UFT at 212-331-6311 if you have any questions and concerns. Hearing from the membership is so important to us, especially during a time like this. I will keep you posted with any updates as soon as they arise.