NEW YORK — New York City schoolchildren returned to the classroom Monday despite a surge in COVID-19 infections over the holiday break, with newly sworn-in Mayor Eric Adams telling parents: “We are going to be safe and we will be open to educate our children.”
Adams, who took office on Saturday, said administrative staffers would pinch hit for teachers who are absent because of the virus.
“Where we see a drop in staffing we’re going to draw from our pool of employees who are waiting,” the Democrat said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He added, “If you have a teaching license we want you in that classroom, in that school building. And we’re going to shift and adjust in real time.”
Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, announced a plan last week to reopen schools after the holiday break with increased surveillance COVID-19 testing and at-home COVID-19 tests sent home with students who have an infected classmate.
Adams said the plan will ensure that students are safe. “Parents, bring your children to school. We are going to be safe and we will be open to educate our children,” he said on MSNBC.
New York City officials have said since the early days of the pandemic in 2020 that mask mandates, social distancing and other safety measures meant children were safer in school than anywhere else.
Esther Farran said she felt fine about taking her 4-year-old daughter to her public preschool in Manhattan on Monday.
“I’m not very apprehensive, and really, we don’t have any other options,” Farran said, noting that she and her husband work. “And I see that this particular school takes good precautions.”
Trisha White said in-person school was far better for her 9-year-old son than remote learning was.
“He could get the virus outside of school,” she reasoned as she dropped her son off and headed for work, “so what can you do? You know, I wouldn’t blame the school system. They’re trying their best.”
The United Federation of Teachers had asked Adams to postpone in-person learning for a week to assess potential staffing shortages given the spike in COVID-19 cases. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Monday that the union remains concerned about staffing.
“This is going to be a very, very challenging week,” he said at a news conference.
Mulgrew said the feasibility of using administrative staff members to fill in for absent teachers depends on factors such as how many teachers are out.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer,” he said.
New COVID-19 cases more than doubled in the city over the school break. In the seven-day period that ended Saturday, the city averaged about 36,900 new cases per day, compared to 17,180 per day in the seven days before schools closed for the holidays.
New York City’s public school system is by far the nation’s largest with about a million students. The city Department of Education website listed eight schools that were closed because of the virus, out of about 1,700.
School was canceled Monday in upstate Syracuse because of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases and a lack of substitutes to cover absences. The district said take-at-home tests would still be given out at city schools.