880 In Depth: Can Schools Reopen Safely? Should They?

By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — As summer races past us with an almost blinding speed, the topic on everyone’s mind as we head for the fall is “How can we safely reopening schools?"

In New York City, Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, lays it out this way, “the opening of the schools is the greatest challenge you will have in this COVID crisis." 

Mulgrew is growing more concerned about the safety of schools with the opening set for the beginning of September.

He sat with WCBS 880 reporter Peter Haskell for this week's 880 IN DEPTH podcast.

New York City has released a plan to reopen schools in a blended program that will be a mix of in-person learning and remote classes. But details of the city plan have not been released yet.

Mulgrew’s bigger issue is what he calls the lack of “a dedicated testing and contact tracing apparatus." The union head calls that “flabbergasting."

He says if he doesn't believe it is safe, he will tell teachers "I do not believe they should be going into schools."

There's also the question of funding.

"Buying all the PPEs, keeping cleaning fluids, having ionized sprayers in every building," Mulgrew said.

Across the river in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced plans to allow schools to develop some in person learning as well. Bergen County Pediatrician Dr. Wayne Yankus has been Medical Advisor to the Ridgewood School District for 36 years, and Leonia Schools for 6 years. He also believes that testing results in the local community will play an important role in how schools handle reopening or staying open.

He, like Mulgrew, is concerned with the time it takes for the results of some tests to be delivered. Dr. Yankus tells WCBS 880, “If you have to wait 10 days for (the results of) your tests it is essentially useless." Yankus says the public health authorities “are going to be key in telling us how to proceed."

Yankus, a one time history teacher before he entered medical school, is also concerned about the health of teachers. He is advising administrators and school leaders to listen to concerns of older and health-compromised staff and do their best to find alternate teaching options to keep them safe.

Mulgrew acknowledges the challenge. “It’s such a difficult position that we are all in because of this virus," he said.

Mulgrew is upset at the lack of detail yet in the city’s plan and admits his members are “angry, frustrated and fearful and want to make sure that things are going to be done right." The problem, says Mulgrew, is that his members have lost trust in local government.

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