The largest school district in the US won't cancel classes even as students and parents test positive for COVID-19, prompting teachers to threaten a 'mass sickout'

  • Schools around the country have announced they will close for days, weeks, or months to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • But schools in New York City, which has the largest has K-12 population in the nation, remain open as Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed concerns about students who rely on the schools for food and shelter.
  • Meanwhile, a local principal sent an email to parents urging schools to close after a parent of a student at her school tested positive for COVID-19.
  • A separate school is scheduled to re-open Monday after a "confirmed case of coronavirus in the school community."
  • Teachers are urging the mayor to close schools, and are considering a "mass sickout" — where throngs of employees call out sick — if they remain open.
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Some New York City teachers are reportedly mulling over a "mass sickout" as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has so far refused to close the city's schools due to the novel coronavirus. 

Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, urged de Blasio to shut down schools. 

"We don't suggest this lightly," Mulgrew wrote in a letter Friday. "We understand the immense disruption this will create for our families. But right now more than a million students and staff crisscross the city every day on their way to schools, putting themselves and others at risk of exposure and increasing the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities."

Mulgrew said he and de Blasio decided to "respectfully disagree" about closing New York schools.

"I have met with the Mayor and outlined our reasons for urging a shutdown. He believes the schools should stay open, though he has agreed to a number of additional safeguards and accommodations. In the end, we have decided to respectfully disagree."

In a tweet Sunday, Mulgrew called on parents and teachers to demand de Blasio close schools. UFT said it planned to go to the Supreme Court to "comply with state health mandate to close schools when there is a positive case."  

According to The New York Post, some teachers have advocated for a "mass sickout" in response to the mayor's decision to keep schools open.  A caucus of teachers within UFT, MORE, has specifically called for the sickout should de Blasio continue with his plan to keep schools open.

In a Saturday press release titled "If de Blasio won't #closenycpublicschools to protect students and their families, teachers will #sickout," the group urged the mayor to reconsider keeping schools open.

"Education workers make the schools run, and if de Blasio will not shut the school system down, we will take action instead, for the long-term health and safety of our students and their families.  We are happy to work distributing food to our students or providing them with online instruction," the group said.

UFT said Sunday it will file a complaint with the Department of Labor if a school with a positive COVID-19 is not closed for at least 24 hours, The New York Post reported.

Katie Dello Stritto, a principal at a school in Brooklyn sent an email to the school community after a parent of a student tested positive for COVID-19. Dello Stritto said she was notifying her school community on her own accord and had not been directed to do so by state or city officials, according to ProPublica.

"I have reached out to the Department of Education for additional guidance," Dello Stritto wrote. "They have mandated the building be cleaned at this time. Beyond that, I cannot wait for them and feel it is critical that I notify you."

Dello Stritto said all city schools should be closed despite no citywide plan for her school to be closed.

"I am advocating in every way that our school, as well as all New York City Public Schools, be closed at this time. I can not make that decision. I would if I could."

At least two other schools in New York remained open after parents of students tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Gothamist reported.

A Staten Island school had a "confirmed case of coronavirus in the school community," though the city said it planned to deep clean the school and re-open it for instruction on Monday.

In an interview on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, de Blasio told Brianna Keilar the situation was a "day by day reality," but did not say if or when he would make the decision to close city schools.  The New York City mayor said if schools were closed, he would want a shut down to be "brief," adding he feared "if a school is shut down they will be done for the school year, maybe even the calendar year." 

According to the New York City Department of Education, the system serves 1,126,501 students and is the largest in the US. About 72.8 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, and the mayor is concerned students who rely on meals and other school-provided services.

In addition to concerns about access to food, de Blasio also said he was worried about teenagers who would end up on the street when not in a classroom. The New York City mayor said the city was looking into alternatives to feeding students if schools were to close, though he said those solutions are "far from perfect."

"People deserve real talk," he said. "If at any point we feel it doesn't make sense, we will make a move." 

A growing number of states nationwide have canceled classes for days, weeks, and even months as experts call for social distancing to reduce the rate of COVID-19 transmission as part of a practice experts hope will "flatten the curve" to prevent overwhelming the US healthcare system. 

At a news conference on Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said shutting down city schools would not be "easy." 

"It's not that simple," Cuomo said, according to NBC New York. "For many families the school is childcare."

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