With public schools set to open on Monday, Sept. 13, Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter and other NYC Department of Education staff joined Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference to update on the latest plans.
"Last week, 234 schools across the city took major damage from Hurricane Ida," Chancellor Porter informed. "That damage ranged from a small amount of basement flooding to entire boiler rooms filled to the ceiling with floodwater. [..] As of last night, 228 of the 234 buildings are fully operational, and we expect work to be completed on the remaining buildings by Monday."
Chief Schools Operations Officer Kevin Moran then went into a lot of detail on what exactly is being done to ensure physical safety at school buildings. I will just leave it here verbatim, in case your school happens to not conform with what is supposed to be happening:
"I'm going to walk you through our multi-layered approach to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all following in a full alignment with the CDC guidance. Every layer works together. And if one layer is not possible, like masking during lunch, then other layers pick up the slack to keep people safe. Each layer is very much important, but no layer carries the entire burden of keeping our kids safe. First, we know that ventilation, the ability to bring in fresh air and exhaust old air, is one of our best tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Last year, we had all of our buildings citywide inspected by independent third-party engineers, and those results were then posted online, as you heard in the video.
- We work daily with all of our independent professionals and our facilities teams, and labor partners to be sure that we're prepared for the first day of school. We make needed repairs to our buildings to keep them safe, and we continue to maintain those buildings at the highest of standards. Ventilation is provided through natural causes, through natural means through windows, machines, or a combination of both methods.
- If a building was designed to provide fresh air through windows, we are ensuring those windows are open and provide the necessary amount of airflow. The buildings in this category are mostly our older buildings that were specifically built in response to previous pandemics and have large windows meant to bring in large amounts of air.
- If a building was designed to provide fresh air through machines, our teams are making sure those are running at the highest level. We installed MERV 13’s, much like you'll see here, and MERV 14 filters in our HVAC units. And the majority of our air conditioners actually have these items installed most recently that fit in all the air conditioners. And I'd like to thank the Mayor for his unprecedented investment in air conditioning in our instructional spaces, which all will be completed by the end of this year.
- Making sure windows and machines create the right ventilation at the beginning of the school year is a major part of a multi-layered approach to health and safety. We need to also to rigorously inspect these classrooms to make sure they continue to function throughout the school year.
- We arm every custodian with devices to check. And you can see the CO2 reader is one that every custodian citywide has to, one, test temperatures in their spaces, but also the CO2 to make sure that the air is being exhausted as students occupy this space. Custodians are also provided with anemometers. This is something that our custodians use to actually monitor and assess cubic feet per minute air exchanges. They actually give custodians a read on the air exchanges in every classroom citywide.
- So, we work in partnership with our custodians and our principals to ensure – and our teachers, to make sure every class has proper ventilation. And if there's a reason that it is not functioning properly, we take the room offline, and we make sure that we investigate and make repairs to that system.
- Our facility staff has nearly two years of experience now keeping our buildings safe during the pandemic. They are maintaining deep cleaning techniques that were put in place last year and utilize electrostatic sprayers, much that you see here.
- We have a large backpack electrostatic sprayer. This is commonly used in our large spaces, hallways, all the corridors, stairwells, cafeteria spaces, etcetera, the smaller handheld electrostatic sprayers is popular for smaller spaces and actually on our school buses, because there's tighter areas in our school buses. They continue to make sure all high-touch surfaces are cleaned, and every room is disinfected on a nightly basis.
- No school leader will have to go without worrying about providing PPE for their students and staff, much of which you see here. Every school will have a full 30-day supply on hand at all times. This includes masks for our smallest learners, much like we have here, and extra protective equipment for educators who are in close contact with students who cannot tolerate a mask at this time. And so, that would include additional face shields that you'll see here, KN-95 masks that you'll see there, vinyl gloves if necessary. And we make sure that our incredible nurses are staffed, and they have a complete assortment, including N-95 masks."
Now, what if this does not inspire confidence in you as a parent? What happens if you decide to keep your child at home, despite the fact that remote instruction is no longer offered?
Mayor de Blasio: "If at the beginning of the school year, a parent's not ready, we're going to keep talking to them, we're going to keep trying to convince them. If that goes on for a while, then that's a different scenario the Chancellor will speak to. But I do think you'll see a small number of parents who would take a little bit of wait and see at first, and then we'll bring in their kid pretty quickly after the beginning of this school year. But I think the vast majority are going to show up on day one and are ready. "
Chancellor Porter: "So, what we've never disagreed on is that in-person learning is the best learning for all of our students. And so, we're looking forward to having our principals and our school communities and the social workers that we've added to our communities to work very closely with families to get our children back in school. And ACS is our partner, and ACS is very clear that their goal is the same as ours, and that is to help get our babies into school.
"The only time the ACS will intervene is if there is a clear intent to keep a child from being educated, period, which is a very different thing to deprive a child of an education, but we want to work with our families because we recognize what families have been through. And so, with all of the supports and the multi-layers of protection that we have in place, we believe that we can work together with families to get babies back in school."
What will happen to teachers who don't have an exemption and aren't vaccinated by the 27th?
Mayor de Blasio: "Look, we're still in those negotiations. They've been intense. We're obviously hoping to resolve things. We're in a process right now, an arbitration process. I don't want to, in any way, get ahead of that. Our goal is to settle these issues and move forward. But not every single one has been settled yet, and we obviously have to do that very, very quickly."
What percentage of DOE staff remain unvaccinated, and what sort of challenges is the DOE expecting regarding staffing?
Mayor de Blasio: "More and more employees are reporting their vaccination status, and obviously, a lot of people are getting vaccinated right now. So, it's an ever-changing situation, but in terms of the latest information we have, Chancellor."
Chancellor Porter: "Sure. So, 72% of our teachers have been vaccinated, 61% of students 12 to 17 have been vaccinated with at least one dose, and so we're confident that our faculty members, our staff members, are going to get that first dose. Even before the 27th, we've seen our numbers continue to increase, and we know that it's important for us to build a bubble of protection around our students."
Commissioner Chokshi confirmed that of all 12 to 17-year-olds across the city, 339,244 young people had received at least one dose of vaccine, or 65.2%. However, since no one is required to submit proof of vaccination, the city does not actually know who is vaccinated and who is not and how the schools differ, and not all 12-17-year-olds attend public schools.