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New York City Reaches Agreement With Educator Union To Push Back The Start Of School


New York is the nation's largest school district. And as of this morning, it is still the only big-city school district on track to open in person this fall. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that a new agreement will push back the first day of school by 11 days. The announcement comes after educator unions had signaled a willingness to strike if their safety demands were not met.


BILL DE BLASIO: A lot was on the line here to work through, but I'm pleased to report that we've come to an agreement to move forward.

KELLY: NPR's Anya Kamenetz has been following all the twists and turns up to today. She's here with us now.

Hey, Anya.


KELLY: So this decision over whether to reopen in person and on campus - it has been so fraught in every school district coast to coast. Bring us up to speed on how this has all played out in New York.

KAMENETZ: So clearly, New York City was hit so hard by the pandemic in early days, and in particular, Mary Louise, dozens of educators' lives were lost. And so now, even though over the past few months, infection rates are very low and most public health experts say the city should be safe to reopen its schools with the proper precautions in place, you know, not everyone feels safe. When you have 1.1 million extremely diverse students, more than a hundred thousand employees - there's a vast range of school buildings. Some of them are quite old. And so the question of what is proper precautions had become really fraught. And so I've been tracking, you know, street protests by teachers outside the chancellor's house, you know, meetings that dragged on into the wee hours over Zoom and people calling for a delay, which now has been announced.

KELLY: OK. So they reached this new agreement that was announced today. Tell us what's in it. What are the details?

KAMENETZ: So, you know, New York City's Department of Ed is pushing back the start of school from September 10 to September 21. And in that time period, there will be union representatives visiting every school to do their own safety checks of issues like airflow. And they're introducing a somewhat innovative coronavirus testing program. It's what's called surveillance testing. So they're planning to be taking a random sample of between 10- and 20% of the students and adults in each school each month.

This is Dr. Jay Varma, a public health adviser to the mayor. And he spoke at the press briefing today.


JAY VARMA: The medical monitoring program that you're hearing about today is really focused on the people who are physically present in the school and so therefore not people with symptoms.

KAMENETZ: So I should point out this is different from what the city's big teacher union had been calling for, which was to test every teacher and every student before the start of school. You know, that seems kind of unlikely, even in the next few weeks.

KELLY: Do we know how much all this is going to cost? Looking at airflow, looking at testing, it's a lot.

KAMENETZ: It is a lot. It definitely won't be cheap. It's coming at a time, of course, when New York City, like so many other cities, states, districts, is hurting for money. In fact, not long ago, New York City school Chancellor Richard Carranza said if the city doesn't get a big chunk of federal aid, which the state is sitting on right now, they would be looking at laying off 9,000 employees, rather than what they need to be doing now, which is hiring more nurses and substitutes.

KELLY: Just a few seconds left, but teachers, parents - how do they feel?

KAMENETZ: You know, some are feeling relieved and hopeful that there's more clarity. Others, Mary Louise, are still not convinced. And there is a lot to resolve and just a few more days to do it.

KELLY: That is NPR's Anya Kamenetz reporting.

Thank you so much.

KAMENETZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.