NYC DOE is just wrong on demanding in-school COVID-19 tests
On Monday, public schools in the city reopened for K-5 students who signed up for blended learning after shutting down on Nov. 19 when the citywide COVID-19 positivity rate surpassed 3 percent. The reopening set the stage for principals to clash with parents who haven’t submitted COVID-19 testing consent forms but still want their kids in class.
It’s another head-spinning instance of Mayor de Blasio moving the goalposts just as parents finally think they have a handle on their children’s education.
I’m the parent of a 5-year-old kindergartener with autism, and I oppose the city’s mandatory weekly random COVID-testing of public school kids. While my son Max and other kindergarten kids are exempt, there are good reasons to oppose weekly testing of any school kids.
For starters, it’s not in the compulsory-education law and regulations that require specific immunizations in order to attend school. To add COVID-19, the Legislature would have to change the law or, at the least, the State Education Department would need to issue new guidance — following public comment. De Blasio’s mayoral diktat is a usurpation of legislative authority.
Secondly, parents — not the DOE — should get to determine what’s in the best interest of their children. For decades, the city’s Department of Education has been expanding the principle of in loco parentis.
It’s one thing for schools to take legal responsibility for students during the school day; it’s quite another to bar parents from being present when they swab children’s noses for a virus.
It’s bad enough that DOE hands out condoms, offers sex counseling and makes referrals for IUDs and abortion clinic appointments for kids as young as 10 without parent notification. New York parents need to draw the line here.
Third, de Blasio’s unlawful mandate is another unnecessary concession to the teachers’ union, as those with medical exemptions are already teaching remotely (from hammocks, Costco and vacation homes in the Berkshires).
Fourth, no jurisdiction elsewhere has made mandatory testing a requirement for in-person schooling. Children (and classrooms) are not the primary vectors of the coronavirus, and when they’re in school buildings they wear face coverings and sit in chilly classrooms where ventilation is allegedly not up to snuff.
Lastly, if the city wants to track the spread of the coronavirus infection, it doesn’t need to do random testing of kids who are seeking their constitutionally guaranteed education. The Department of Environmental Protection is testing wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 as an indicator of a community’s health.
Mandatory random testing of kids is both an unnecessary and an illegal overreach. Plus, the nasal test used is less accurate than the deeper one that swabs the cavity between the nose and mouth. Officials should limit any testing they do to school staff and teachers, particularly those who come in from outside the communities where they work.
Parents who oppose the in-school testing mandate are now refusing to sign the consent forms and threatening legal action if DOE bars their kids from attending classes. Those who don’t enjoy the luxury of working from home don’t want to be forced to cede their rights to the DOE or lose their jobs.
Adriana Aviles, a Queens mom of three, told me her third-grader’s principal won’t accept her NYC H+H test results as proof that her child is virus-free. Her son wasn’t allowed in the school building and was placed in full remote in a different class away from his friends.
That’s outrageous — and it should never have to come to that. Parents, not the United Federation of Teachers, are the ultimate stakeholders in the health and educational futures of school kids. How tragic that Team de Blasio doesn’t recognize that.
Indeed, nothing has exposed the shortcomings of Hizzoner and his equally unimpressive, Critical Race Theory-obsessed ideologue Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza like the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past nine months, they’ve played ping-pong with the lives of school children and their parents.
Enough is enough. The city needs to rescind mandatory testing and permit kids to return under the original terms of the blended learning option.
Michael Benjamin, a former Bronx assemblyman, is a member of The Post Editorial Board.