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de Blasio’s Plan to Keep Schools Open

December 29, 2021 am31 1:01 am

There was plenty of outrage today, over de Blasio barely pretending to keep us safe. What did he say? Here’s some highlights:

  • de Blasio is encouraging families to test
  • de Blasio is encouraging families to give consent to be tested
  • If a kid is positive, those exposed take a rapid home test that day. If it is negative, they stay in school (no quarantine). They test again five days later.
  • They are doubling staffing at the situation room
  • They are doubling the number of in-school PCR tests they are giving (for students and staff) – and allowing staff to use as many tests as are left over after the students are tested
  • They are going to include vaccinated and unvaccinated in in-school testing

I’m going to look at this, point by point.

de Blasio is encouraging families to test: In Boston they are testing everyone before they return to school. de Blasio claimed this is not feasible in NYC. I guess, why not? OK, here’s a guess. The City’s testing network is a patchwork mess. It is easy to proclaim “tests are available” – de Blasio has done it several times – when it was at least partially untrue. it would be quite another level of challenge to process and collate a million test results. Maybe de Blasio was almost telling the truth. Maybe testing all of our students and staff before January 3 is not feasible in NYC, because it requires planning and competence that exceed what is available in de Blasio’s administration.

de Blasio is encouraging families to give consent to be tested: NYC is an outlier – requiring families to opt in for testing. Most places assume everyone can be tested, but allow families to opt out. This bizarro pattern may sound a little familiar. Remember in 2020-2021 when we couldn’t get a handle on how many families wanted to be remote? How it came as a result of de Blasio engineering an opt-out of hybrid learning, when an opt-in would have made sense? We know what happened then. de Blasio and some of his numbers people tried to rig the system to get more kids to attend in person. It didn’t work. But the abuse of opt-in vs opt-out is now signature de Blasio. It’s a ham-fisted attempt to alter the narrative, and now it’s not only lousy propaganda, it’s an impediment to safety.

If a kid is positive, those exposed take a rapid home test that day. If it is negative, they stay in school (no quarantine). They test again five days later: This is the one that has teachers screaming. It is essentially an end to preventative quarantines. Only sick, symptomatic, positive children will stay home.

Watch this: Johnny comes to school Monday, 3rd grade, was exposed the previous week, shows symptoms Monday, goes home, tests, positive, stays home. Now the kids who were with Johnny in class on Monday, they take a rapid test Monday night. Of course, after a few hours exposure, they all test negative. But in fact, two of them picked up omicron from Johnny on Monday. They all keep coming to class, and over the weekend they take their second rapid tests, and look, after a week of exposure…

But try again: Isabella comes to high school Monday, was exposed the previous week. Feels off, but isn’t sure that these are symptoms until the end of the day. While Johnny was with one class, and his classmates stayed together all week, Isabella has been in 7 classrooms with 7 groups of kids. Plus lunch. That’s, idk, 100, 200 rapid tests that night. None of the tests pick up anything. Too soon. But even if a few kids caught omicron from Isabella, by the end of the week large numbers of students and faculty will be potentially exposed.

This “no quarantine policy” is not good health policy. The first rapid test is too early, and is a waste of resources (especially in NYC, where we have had trouble getting tests for people who need them). Coming to school for a week immediately after exposure is risky for everyone else.

A secondary issue is about the reliability of at-home tests – not because of the tests are lousy – I think they are good – but because we know there are parents who send sick children to school. Especially with de Blasio and Adams and Hochul downplaying the risk to children, accepting home results looks like a practice that is designed to fail, at least at some schools, for some age kids.

And, minor side-note, the use of rapid tests leaves a question mark for teachers. How do we avoid getting docked pay if we do not have a PCR (with documentation)?

But this “no quarantine” policy will just about completely halt classroom closures, as it was certainly designed to do.

They are doubling staffing at the situation room: OK, that can’t hurt. But will it help? For the last two weeks the Situation Room broke down. Principals left messages – could not speak to a live person. Test and Trace seemed to have disappeared. Schools, with no specialized training, were attempting to make decisions about how to categorize illness, whom to contact, etc. Will increased staffing at the Situation Room fix this and prevent it from happening again? To answer that, we would have had to know what went wrong. And we can guess in a general way (not enough people, o-verwhelmed by o-micron, organizational problems), but we cannot get more specific. Worse, de Blasio denies that anything went wrong. How do we know he is addressing the problem, if he claims there was no problem? That is worrying. It’s also insulting to our intelligence.

They are doubling the number of in-school PCR tests they are giving (for students and staff): Again, sounds better. But if the baseline was low enough, doubling it will still leave us with a low number. And the previous number, 10%, was way too low. And by making it 10% of unvaccinated students who had given consent, the actual numbers tested were often tiny. One parent reported that 0 kids were tested in her daughter’s school last Monday. I think there were just two in my school (plus four adults) the same day. This policy was designed to keep the numbers tested low, so that the reports about COVID in schools would say that the number was small. Minimize testing, minimize the number. So today when asked, de Blasio claimed “We’ve never had a problem getting the number of kids and adults tested that we’ve needed to” (from Jen Jennings twitter feed. She listened to the entire event). The number he is talking about is a compliance number. He fulfilled an agreement, like a contract. He is not describing testing large numbers of kids – an outcome the agreement was designed to prevent.

They are going to include vaccinated and unvaccinated in in-school testing: Good change. It was needed as soon as breakthrough cases began. Which would have been September. Excluding fully (and partially) vaccinated students was just a way to “juke the numbers” as my friend Arthur says. Even when de Blasio is moving from doing the Wrong Thing to doing the Right Thing, he does it in a way that reminds us how astonishingly untrustworthy he really is.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

If de Blasio brought his brightest education people, health people and numbers crunchers into a room, and he asked them: “Come up with a system that will keep teachers and students safe, and will not unnecessarily send kids home, close classrooms, or close schools” and they came up with this system, he would need to fire all of them.

  • At home testing has an element of unreliability because some families will want their children in school, sick or not.
  • Sending exposed children back into the classroom for five days will lead to avoidable cases.
  • Adding staff to the Situation Room without assessing what went wrong is, well, dumb.
  • Not restarting January with a baseline negative from everyone seems like a strangely lost opportunity.
  • Keeping consent as an “opt-in” rather than an “opt-out” is another lost opportunity.

No, if a room of smart people missed this, then they are not so smart, and should not be drawing a check from the City.

But that is unlikely what happened.

“Come up with a system that will completely stop closing schools and classrooms, and that will minimize time that students are kept out of school, that will reduce staff complaints, and, if possible, avoid major outbreaks”

If de Blasio brought his brightest education people, health people and numbers crunchers into a room, and he asked them: “Come up with a system that will completely stop closing schools and classrooms, and that will minimize time that students are kept out of school, that will reduce staff complaints, and, if possible, avoid major outbreaks” then they might have thought like this:

  • Avoid testing large numbers, but do not make it so obvious. Double the previous numbers, that’s still low. Keep the “opt-in” in place, it holds numbers down. Allow faculty to take tests in school – they test themselves out of school anyway, and watching testers leave, with tests, but without testing faculty just pisses teachers off needlessly
  • Under no circumstances demand PCRs before January 3, since we know that 10-20% will test positive and some schools will not be able to open.
  • End quarantines for close contacts. This ends classroom closures and school closures, and keeps the minimum number of kids out of school.
  • Count on parents to hold their kids out of school if symptoms are bad. (the DoE has already gotten away with the self-reported health screening – which is kind of a scam).
  • Use at-home rapid tests to move accountability away from the DoE. Make a show of giving lots of at-home tests.
  • Ask for the at-home tests to be administered too early to detect infection.

This is what de Blasio got. And that gives us a pretty good idea of what he asked for.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Maryellen Ambrosio permalink
    December 29, 2021 am31 9:35 am 9:35 am

    Thank you! We are so so screwed in a profession I love I now hate to be put into this situation. It’s all about the money not our lives. You know how many fully vaccinated adults are now VERY SICK from being in school. Why the NYCDiE won’t give parents the option for remote is a farce. You know as I do parents do not want their kids home not at all so they buy into the crap out government is telling them. Why then does theDoE now offer Covid IEPs because there is a very high percentage of children getting sick and having long term debilitating effects from this virus. Yet we all in school on Monday the 3rd, 2022. Be well and happy new year ! mea

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. David Vota permalink
    December 29, 2021 am31 9:35 am 9:35 am

    I told you once and I am not going to tell you again. “Everything is fine, I blow my kazoo during my daily address, Times Square New Years is back and better than ever. We are doubling down(WTF does this mean anyway) and going to keep our schools open BECAUSE IT IS THE SAFEST PLACE FOR OUR KIDS”. You dumb @#$%^&* @#$%^, no it isn’t. They are the ones spreading it this time. Have any of you elected officials realized this yet? I’d prefer them to come out and say, ‘we really don’t give a shit about any of you” – I’d feel much better. Now I feel cleansed.

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