New York City’s teachers union said Tuesday the city health department put educators and students at risk, prior to the city’s system-wide shutdown, by not evenly applying a closure policy for individual schools when a staff member contracted the coronavirus.
The union issued the statement in response to the death of Dezann Romain, principal of Brooklyn Democracy Academy in Brownsville, who died this week from apparent complications stemming from the coronavirus. She was 36 years old. Another principal in the same building — Ronda Phillips, principal of Kappa V High School — has been hospitalized.
“Our heart goes out to the family, students and colleagues of Dezann Romain,” the union said in a statement Tuesday night. “We will not comment on this particular tragedy at this time. However, in the week leading up to system-wide school closure, we had been given information that led us to believe that the New York City Department of Health was not following the school closing protocol issued by the state for COVID-19.”
Before Mayor Bill de Blasio closed schools, the state issued a directive to close any school where a staffer or student had tested positive for the virus for 24 hours, while the city conducted a deep clean and tracked anyone who may have come into contact with the infected person.
The union said it was told all final decisions for individual school closings — along with medical investigations and notification of affected members of the school community — rested with the city’s Health Department. With its statement, the UFT suggested that did not happen with all schools in which someone had contracted the virus.
“For these reasons, the UFT was prepared to go to court to shut the schools, but stopped when city officials finally listened to reason and ordered the schools closed,” the union said.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Union President Michael Mulgrew, along with advocates and elected officials, had been urging the city to close schools for days before the March 15 decision.
When de Blasio announced the decision, Mulgrew said the city “made the right decision” and that the union would work to make sure there were programs to offer children support.
He also said the city should have been coming up with contingencies sooner.
In a press conference Monday, de Blasio said he heard from city schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on Monday night about the principal’s death.
“He was very, very sad and very pained, and I was, to hear that we lost a principal … but I do not have the details of any connection to other DOE members,” he said.
He also pointed to multiple sources through which an individual can be exposed and called on people to follow basic rules.
“[The] vast majority of our school buildings are shut down now,” de Blasio added. “Some are only doing food operations, pickup, but no educators there. No students there … a very small number being used for our enrichment centers.”
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