Forest Hills parents and kids want schools in cluster zones to remain open, call for more testing

Photo by Dean Moses

About two dozen parents and children called on the city to keep schools in Queens’ hot zones open during a protest at P.S. 196 Grand Central Parkway in Forest Hills on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Following Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Education’s announcement that more than 100 public school sites across Brooklyn and Queens COVID-19 cluster zones will close for a two week period to minimize the spread of the virus, parents in some of Queens hot zones (Kew Gardens, Rego Park and Forest Hills) say they want to see more data.

Demonstrators chanted “open up” at the rally Wednesday afternoon, before several took turns speaking, including some children who said they want to be in school and mentioned some schools have “zero cases.”

Photo by Dean Moses

“If the percent is 3 percent or 8 percent, based on single digit positivity when you’re only testing 200 people, the logical thing to do is to test more people,” said Yiatin Chu, member of PLACE NYC. “I looked at some charts yesterday that we have in New York City, the ZIP codes that actually have the highest number of people testing have the lowest number of positivity. And of the nine ZIP codes that are highlighted in New York City that have high percentages of positivity, [they] have one of the lowest numbers of testing.”

Chu said it isn’t “right to shut down schools, and take away public education for our children for a handful of cases.”

Photo by Dean Moses

P.S. 196 is one of the 153 schools in the state’s designated “Red Zones.” The school also had two positive cases of COVID-19 in the last week.

The DOE maintains the decision to close school buildings for two weeks is one strategy in a comprehensive plan designed to reduce the transmission of the virus in specific geographic clusters. They say they have conducted mobile testing in areas in those COVID clusters in Brooklyn and Queens, with only two positive cases out of 1,859 test results as of Wednesday.

The city plans to continue its mandatory monthly testing program beginning Friday, Oct. 9, as originally planned.

Schools that are closed until the 21st will not be tested this month. They have communicated with all schools that will be tested on Friday, which are not currently in the “Yellow Zone.”

DOE spokesperson Danielle Filson told QNS the city’s schools reopening plans prioritize health and safety of students and staff.

“Last week we officially opened for in-person learning in every grade, and students are receiving high-quality instruction five days a week in a way that keeps our communities safe and helps prevent the spread of the virus,” Filson said. “As we continue to navigate a global pandemic, our reopening plan prioritizes the health and safety of our students and staff, and school closure decisions are made based on guidance issued by federal, state and local health experts.”

At the protest, parents and children held signs that read: “Protocols Work,” “Cuomo Keep Our School Open,” “Show us the data,” and “I follow the rules, let me stay in school.”

One parent said that while 28 positive cases in the area are “cause for concern,” it isn’t “when there’s approximately 75,000 people in the area without COVID.”

“We believe schools are essential, we believe children belong in class,” the parent said. “Remote is simply no substitute for in-classroom learning, especially for children in special education, in ICT, in District 75, who cannot be in a classroom as much as possible, but yet they were not prioritized by the DOE for five days a week learning.”

Photo by Dean Moses

Jeffery Herskovitz, a parent in the community, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio have “failed” them.

“The last time I checked, I still live in the United States, I still live in the land of the free and the brave,” Herskovitz said. “My child is home and is upset every day that she can’t go to school. Cuomo has failed us completely from day one, with the worst rates in the nation. How dare you even try to dictate to me as an adult of what I can and cannot do.”

Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

He added the community knows how to socially distance, wash their hands, and feel safe sending children to school.

“You do not have this power to dictate to us what we do on a daily basis, it not only ruins our lives it ruins our child’s lives,” Herskovitz said. “Cuomo, you better remember this, my laws are legislated not dictated.”

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