Teachers blast ‘weak’ safety measures after MS 88 staffer contracts COVID

ms 88
MS 88 in Greenwood Heights.
Wikimedia Commons

Teachers at MS 88 in Greenwood Heights say the city has failed them after a staffer at the school tested positive for the coronavirus.

In an open letter, teachers blasted the New York City Department of Education for what they say are weak testing requirements, which lead to an infected staffer entering the building — and the first known case since public school teachers returned to their classrooms this week. 

“The city has failed us, and in turn the public,” the letter reads. “What happened to us is a dress rehearsal for disaster for our school communities.” 

The MS 88 teachers say “recommended” testing of teachers does not go far enough, and more stringent testing is needed to keep infected teachers and students from spreading the coronavirus amongst school communities at-large.

“It has been left up to the discretion of staff to get tested and ultimately to report positive results to school principals, meaning there are probably many COVID-positive teachers in our school sites,” the letter reads.

Teachers claim that, after reporting for work on Tuesday, Sept. 8, they were told to work remotely on Sept. 9. On Sept. 9 they received a staff-wide email informing them that an asymptomatic colleague had tested positive for COVID-19. At 6:30 am the next morning, faculty received another email claiming that an investigation was conducted and that the building was safe for them to return to work that day.

However, the teachers contend that the supposed contact tracing conducted was inadequate, and employees who had close contact with the infected staffer were not contacted. 

“It quickly became evident that despite the assurance that rigorous contact tracing was completed, we know this to be false,” the letter reads. “It has now been more than 36 hours since our coworker reported her positive test result, and at least 2 of the teachers who were in close contact with her have still received no communication from contact tracers or city officials.”

The DOE defended its testing protocols, claiming in a statement that the infected MS 88 employee and every close contact they had were being isolated.

“There was an investigation of this confirmed case, the case was isolated, and multiple staff members were identified as close contacts,” department spokesperson Miranda Barbot said. “Those staff members are required to quarantine. As soon as the case was confirmed, we notified staff, in accordance with protocol. Staff have had access to and known about priority testing since Sept. 1.”

In the wake of the first confirmed positive case — which was one of two cases found in Brooklyn School District 15 on Sept. 9 — the teachers laid out a list of demands, including better communication, clearer protocols, and protections for those who come into contact with sick people. The educators are also pushing for mandated rapid testing to prevent infected people from entering the school.

Compounding the issue, teachers allege that, after the first positive case came to light, they learned that some staffers had not been tested at all prior to entering the building on Seventh Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets.

With the block-long, four-story building already compromised, more than 100 staffers are accusing DOE of reawakening the trauma school workers experienced during Spring 2020, when the delay in closing down schools likely infected hundreds of faculty and community members. So far, 79 DOE employees have been killed by the coronavirus.

“We want to return to our classrooms and to deliver live instruction to students. This can’t happen without the proper infrastructure, logistical planning, safety measures, and funding,” the teachers said. “The majority of our students at MS 88 live in neighborhoods that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and have followed protocols to protect their loved ones from future devastation. We do not want to see our kids battle a resurgence which will impact their communities most.” 

Teachers and school staff, we want to hear from you! E-mail reporter Ben Verde at [email protected] or call/text 917 620-0113.