BY BEN VERDE
New York City public middle schools will reopen this month for in-person learning after being closed since mid-November due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday morning.
Middle schools have the go-ahead to reopen on Thursday, Feb. 25, according to City Hall.
“Our educators have done an incredible job supporting students remotely but, as we’ve said from the beginning, nothing can replace in-person learning and the support our students receive in person,” Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said during de Blasio’s morning press briefing. “We’re so thrilled to be able to provide that.”
As part of the reopening plan, middle school teachers in the Department of Education system returning to work in person will be given priority for the coronavirus vaccine at city-run hubs between Feb. 12 and Feb. 21 and during the mid-winter recess.
The Department of Education will conduct weekly testing throughout the middle school system and add additional staff to its situation room.
As it stands, two confirmed cases in any public school cause the school to shut down temporarily.
City Hall’s announcement comes as concerns rise about the prevalence of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus, the presence of which has been confirmed in New York.
City officials insisted that the school systems’ ardent safety precautions would prevent the spread of the variants in school buildings, which caused school buildings to shutter throughout Europe.
“There were no European countries adopting the same rigorous approach that we have adopted here,” said Dr. Jay Varma, a public health advisor with the mayor’s office. “That means universal masking regardless of age, universal maintaining of physical distance, aggressive symptom screening, all the ventilation improvements.”
Leaders of the United Federation of Teachers, the union that represents public school educators, said they will monitor the system to ensure that widespread testing, use of personal protective equipment and physical distancing are adhered to.
Union officials repeated the City Hall talking point that public schools are the safest place to be throughout the city.
“These strict standards, and the requirement that buildings close temporarily when virus cases are detected, have made our schools the safest places to be in our communities,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “They will continue to be the strongest protections for the health and safety of students and staff.”
This story originally appeared on amny.com.