M.S. 88 Update: Holes in NYC’s Test and Trace Program Are Unacceptable

By Lynn Shon, Sept. 12th, 2020

The following statement is adapted from a Twitter thread Lynn published this morning. Thank you Lynn for updating on M.S. 88 after a positive case was reported on Tuesday, staff informed Wednesday and ordered back to the school building Thursday without staff contact testing and tracing:

I am a teacher at MS 88. UPDATE: My colleagues are hearing from Test & Trace for the first time this morning– 4 days since exposure in our school building, and 3 days since we were notified (from self-reporting and internal tracing.) The notification & isolation Miranda Barbot mentions in this article was the work of our own staff, not the city! Please listen to us on the ground working through the ramifications of a positive case!

There are many holes in the city’s Test & Trace plan. My partner (who also works at MS 88) is under mandatory quarantine. I am not. We live together! Of course, I’ve been quarantining anyway- but I should not have to lose any additional CAR (sick) days due to this oversight.

My partner finally spoke to Test & Trace this morning, and gave them my name. 4 days after exposure. By the way I’m confident that I was in closer contact with the individual who tested positive than he was. The individual is relatively new to the school and likely did not know my name!

What does this mean for students who are new to the school? In addition to not knowing names, how do you describe faces covered by masks?

Two teachers with the same last name were contacted by Test & Trace as of this morning. BOTH teachers are under mandatory quarantine because the individual who tested positive mentioned this last name. One of these teachers returned to school yesterday in PERSON, not knowing he was on the list. Both teachers were masked and socially distanced from the teacher who tested positive, but one had more exposure. In the eyes of the city, they are equal. We are now understaffed, and 100s of students will have substitute teachers on the first few days of in-person school.

On top of all of this: Many of my colleagues who have been quarantining since Wednesday, thanks to our own internal tracing led by our administrators and teachers, are still waiting on “expedited” test results that have yet to come in! My colleagues under quarantine are very upset to miss the first few days of in-person school. They have been working around the clock to make the hybrid model of in-person and remote learning work. Now? Many of them, us, are full remote for the first few days of in-person school.

PLEASE HELP US so that we can work through these problems before students arrive! Our demands are listed in our letter:

Our Demands

As a community working through the ramifications of a first positive case, here is what our school community needs for a safe reopening:

Communication: We need transparent, direct lines of communication between the DOE, Test & Trace Corps and school staff. We believe that self-reporting is not a reliable or expedient way of notifying school communities of positive cases. This communication also removes the burden from individuals who test positive and the administrators who are working around the clock to safely reopen schools during a pandemic. Much of the anxiety we have experienced in the last 48 hours are directly linked to simply not knowing what was happening or how to safely move forward.

Protocols and Protections for Positive Cases: We need clear protocols and protections in place for individuals who have been in contact with staff who test positive, and we believe these should be publicly posted by the DOE and test & trace staff. These protocols also need to extend beyond staff members who were in direct contact. For example, many of our family members are now currently in quarantine, given that many of us have been in contact with the staff member who tested positive. We, and our families, should not lose pay or sick days for working remotely, given that the DOE has not followed through on all safety measures.

Mandated and Rapid Testing: We believe that mandated and rapid testing for all individuals entering school buildings is critical to protecting our staff, students and communities safe from spread. Since learning about our first positive case, we learned that not all staff had been tested, or, that not all staff had received their test results prior to returning to school on September 8. Furthermore, despite statements from the city, many of our staff learned that many Health & Hospital sites were unaware and unable to provide expedited testing for DOE employees. Health & Hospital sites must be aware of all protocols, alongside all DOE staff.

We also support all of the demands outlined in the Slow Down to Save Lives letter from a coalition of NYC-based public school students, parents, teachers, school leaders, advocates, and elected officials who are demanding Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, UFT President Mulgrew, and Chancellor Carranza delay reopening school buildings, fully fund our schools, and invest in a safer, more equitable plan for NYC students that includes equitable remote learning, an expansion of REC centers and low-risk alternatives like outdoor learning.

What happened to us is a dress rehearsal for disaster for our school communities. If there is one thing we’ve learned from 7 months of COVID-19, it’s that the people who have been developing school reopening policies are far removed from those who are actually implementing those policies. It’s time that the DOE leadership center the voices of those working on the ground to reopen schools, and most importantly, those who are most harmed by existing inequities in our communities.

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