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Friday, November 27, 2020

Data on COVID-19 Spread in NYC Schools is "Political"


Students line up for temperature checks outside PS 179 Kensington, Brooklyn
in September. 
(Mark Lennihan/AP)

We are no fans of the New York City Department of Education administration, but we are supporters of educators, parents, and students in arguing for Department rules and regulations when these guidelines are properly in place. This is not a conflict, as every case is unique and every charge, allegation, or harm has its' own facts. Gotta dig, call, research.

But one thing that almost everyone agrees with is that we are not finding out what we need to know about the status of the virus, numbers of sick, or safety measures taken to keep those essential workers, students, and educators safe. It's all smoke and mirrors. Every decision made by the Department is, it seems, "political", as Attorney and Deputy Chancellor Adrienne Austin told parents as the reason why the SHSAT test for entrance to Specialized High Schools is not being given.

Here is a post from the NY POST on November 25, 2020:

De Blasio says he has no plan to reopen the NYC schools he closed
By Nolan HicksCarl Campanile and Natalie Musumeci, NY POST, November 25, 2020

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday made the stunning admission that he closed city public schools due to rising COVID-19 infection rates without having a reopening plan in place — and took sole responsibility for the blunder.

“Honestly, I have to hold myself responsible,” de Blasio admitted during a City Hall press briefing when asked by a reporter why a schools reopening plan was not created before he ordered school buildings shuttered indefinitely for in-person learning last week.

“The better situation would have been, clearly, to have that plan all worked through in advance,” de Blasio confessed, while offering no solution to the problem.

Parents and city officials alike blasted de Blasio for the boneheaded move, which came despite no such move by the state to shutter or scale-back restaurants or other businesses that have been more closely linked to spread of the virus.

Parents protest [photo: Gregory P. Mango]

Sam Pirozzolo

Sam Pirozzolo, vice president of the NYC Parents Union, whose son attends a Staten Island high school, called de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s handling of city education during the coronavirus pandemic “beyond incompetence” when asked about the mayor’s rare mea culpa.

“This is not real education. It’s getting worse and worse and worse,” Pirozzolo fumed of the remote and hybrid schooling plan.

Haile Rivera, who has two children enrolled at PS 91 in The Bronx, said, “This decision to close the schools has just led to more confusion and frustration.”

But, the dad said of de Blasio, “Finally, the man admitted he made a mistake.”

“De Blasio was trying to show he was leading the nation by opening New York’s schools. He got a few headlines,” said Rivera, who is running for City Council next year. “Then he closed the schools. How embarrassing.”

The de Blasio administration, over the summer, established that in-person learning at all Big Apple public schools would stop if the citywide coronavirus infection rate hit 3 percent on a rolling seven-day average.

That metric was hit on the nose last Thursday, and de Blasio switched all students at city schools to 100 percent remote learning.

And since a plan to get the schools back open was not in place, despite weeks of city data showing COVID-19 infection rates inching closer and closer to the 3 percent threshold and the mayor being asked about it by reporters almost daily, the de Blasio administration has been scrambling to figure out what to do next.

“I think what really happened was — as with everything COVID — we had a moving target. We were trying to see if there were measures we could take to avoid going past the 3 percent,” said de Blasio, who first admitted last week that a schools reopening plan had not been formulated.

The mayor — who the Post reported in October has taken to long walks before and after his daily press briefings, instead of busying himself at City Hall — explained, “That’s really where our energy was going, deploying the testing, trying to take actions that we thought might avert the original measure being hit.”

“And honestly, we’re putting tons of energy — all of us — into trying to keep making the schools better, trying to address the huge numbers of questions that came up with blended learning, with remote learning and so many other things,” he said.

Still, de Blasio owned up to the basic fact that he should have had a back-up plan ready to go in the event that that the city’s coronavirus infection rate hits 3 percent or more over a seven-day average.

“I think we didn’t have a plan B and we should have had a plan B, but I also understand why we didn’t because we were really dealing with so many day-to-day, hour-to-hour issues and trying to avert getting to that three percent,” he said.

And de Blasio ordered the public schools shuttered even though he has said that the schools have proven “to be very safe.”

According to the Department of Education, random internal testing of students and staffers in school buildings consistently yielded minimal infection rates hovering around 0.19 percent.

De Blasio promised Wednesday that the details of a reopening plan will be revealed next week.

Many New Yorkers have pointed out the seeming incongruity of closing schools amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, while Big Apple restaurants and other businesses have not been ordered closed by the state.

Pirozzolo called the 3 percent threshold to close schools an “arbitrary” and “bogus” number.

“This is all BS. It’s not based on science,” he railed.

Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy schools chancellor under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, echoed those remarks and said the 3 percent threshold was “set too low.”

“The NYC school system is in chaos,” said Nadelstern, adding, “It’s nice that de Blasio admitted that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. You have a mayor who doesn’t have a plan and a chancellor [Richard Carranza] who doesn’t have a clue.”

Nadelstern said there’s “real damage” happening within the city’s school system — the largest in the nation — and predicted that parents will pull children out due to inadequate remote instruction and uncertain policies.

“I think it’s important for the public to be aware that [de Blasio] chose for it to be this way,” said Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn), who chairs the Education Committee. “This is not the best that New York City can do, this is the best that he can do.”

State Sen. John Liu (D-Queens), who chairs the senate’s New York City education panel, said, “The sad reality is that DOE officials, along with teachers and principals, could have had a comprehensive plan with contingencies in place by September, but they were scuttled by the mayor’s obstinate pursuit of in-person schooling at the expense of the vast majority of students and families.”

“Schools would be better off if de Blasio were less controlling,” said Liu.

Meanwhile, the latest city data shows that the Big Apple has a 3.05 percent infection rate on a seven-day rolling average, while the daily citywide positivity rate is at 2.74 percent.

That data also shows that on Monday, hospitalizations have increased with 141 new patients admitted to city hospitals with suspected COVID-19 and 45 percent of them testing positive.

“Overall, our hospitals are doing very, very well, but that jump is a concern,” de Blasio said.

The city’s seven-day rolling average of new virus cases is at 1,447.


From Editor Betsy Combier:

Politics should not override safety nor play a part in opening/closing schools. Period. End of discussion.

Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli Sues The NYC DOE To Re-Open Schools

  Betsy Combier

Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials   

NYC schools’ low COVID-19 test rate shows disease likely not spreading in classrooms — but experts see limits on data
Michael Elsen-Rooney, NY DAILY News, November 25, 2020

Some 160,000 COVID-19 tests of staff and students in the city’s schools since October have shown a positivity rate of 0.28% — a figure epidemiologists called surprisingly low, and a possible sign the disease is not spreading widely in classrooms.

“Surveillance testing has turned up much fewer cases than anyone expected” in city schools, said Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at CUNY’s School of Public Health.

The widely reported citywide positive rate — the four-week rolling average was reported at 2.73% on Wednesday — includes only people who sought testing.

People who seek out tests are more likely to be ill, city officials say. The actual prevalence of the disease in the city is believed to be much lower, though estimates vary.

Epidemiologists believe the school positivity rate might be a better measure of the actual prevalence of the virus in city schools because the school rate is collected from random samples of people.

The prevalence of the virus in city schools “probably ends up being similar” to the prevalence citywide, said Anna Bershteyn, a professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU’s medical school.

But health experts say there are limitations in what the data says about the safety of city schools — and have some ideas for how city officials can improve the school testing program.

One idea is data showing how the positivity rate in school has changed over time. That could help experts track to spread of the virus in schools.

“What is needed…are snapshots in time,” said Michael Mina, a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who consulted with the United Federation of Teachers on the original proposal for the testing program.

“They report overall. But much more important is to understand whether things are going up or going down. That’s important,” Mina said in an email.

The Education Department briefly posted on Wednesday that the seven-day-rolling average for school infection rates from Nov. 15 to Nov. 22 was 0.59% — more than twice the .28% average for the school year.

The agency removed that statistic later that day, and a spokesman provided no explanation.

City officials say the original goal of the testing program was to keep tabs on the effectiveness of safety measures like mask mandates, social distancing, ventilation, and contact tracing – rather than rooting out and stopping outbreaks on its own.

“It’s going to help us understand how much undiagnosed infection is there and are our prevention measures working the way they should,” Jay Varma, Mayor de Blasio’s senior health adviser, told the City Council in October. “Testing isn’t our first line of defense in the city.”

Mayor de Blasio has said that when schools reopen, testing will be more widespread, and more frequent. State guidelines for reopening schools in COVID-19 hotspots mandate testing 25% of the school population each week – though those exact rules may not apply to city schools.

In a working paper last month, Bershteyn estimated the city would need to test half of each school’s population twice a month to catch outbreaks.

The expanded testing program will require each of the roughly 335,000 city students expected to return to in-person learning to submit consent forms, city officials say.

Nash, the CUNY epidemiologist, urged the city to take advantage of “pool” testing, where multiple samples – like an entire class of kids – can be analyzed in the same batch. If all are negative, there’s no need for further examination. If there’s a positive, health officials can re-test the samples individually to find the infection.

Bershteyn said another way to beef up the testing program would be to offer a test to every student and staffer in a school after a positive case is reported. That could help health experts isolate the “secondary attack rate,” or the likelihood that one positive case will spread to another person in a given setting.
“I still think we could shed more light on the safety of schools if we could do more testing, and especially more testing after a case is identified in a school,” she said.

Mike Elsen-Rooney covers education for the Daily News. He previously covered education for The Teacher Project at Columbia Journalism School and The Hechinger Report, and his work has appeared in The Atlantic, Bloomberg, and the Boston Globe Magazine, among others. Mike’s a former high school Spanish teacher and afterschool program coordinator.