Hunter College elementary school reports four COVID cases

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Beyond My Ken | Wikimedia Commons

Amanda Salazar

Hunter College Campus Elementary School in Lenox Hill reported four COVID-19 cases in Mid-to-late October — but the school’s administration refused to adjust in-person learning procedures at all.

New York County Politics first reported on the Hunter College Campus Elementary and High Schools (HCCS) back on Oct. 1, when a teacher-led safety strike was narrowly avoided by the school’s administration.

Teachers said that the school administration was refusing to allow an independent safety investigation of their windowless classrooms. On the cusp of a strike, the administration agreed to let an investigation proceed, and it found that the buildings were, in fact, safe for the start of classes.

HCCS is a public K-12 school that is run by the City University of New York (CUNY), not the Department of Education (DOE). HCCS faculty and staff are members of CUNY’s professor and staff union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), instead of the United Federation of Teachers.

When the school reported its first four cases in October — one student and three teachers — PSC requested tightened safety precautions for the following week. The administration, headed by Hunter College President Jennifer Raab and HCCS Director Lisa Siegman, denied this request.

“Two out of three teachers in Kindergarten pods A, B & C tested positive for COVID and one child in pod A and one in pod C, which are in separate classrooms,” a report disseminated by PSC reads. “All these cases are linked to each other and regardless of which person came to school with COVID first, it is clearly being transmitted between students and teachers, which the protocols in place are supposed to be preventing. These are just the first cases in the school, this situation would indicate that if another person comes in with COVID, the same spreading could happen.”

If this were a DOE school, the union pointed out, the school would have been shut down after just two confirmed cases from separate classrooms, so long as a connection between the two, like contact, could be proved.

Since the school is run by CUNY, however, it is not subject to this rule and the school is being allowed to remain open without extended safety measures being put in place.

PSC and the HCCS teachers demanded that the school make some changes, since the four cases have been linked together, making it probable that one person brought it and the other three caught it from them while in the school building.

They are asking that the school put in place a testing program that will allow for weekly random COVID tests, no mixing of students during lunch and recess and school-provided personal protective equipment (PPE) that will be cleaned between uses.

“A) N95 Masks for all teachers, b) Face shields provided to all teachers and staff members, c) Face shields for students while eating that are sanitized after each use and labelled with student names, d) 3 side-Plexiglass barriers put in place in all student desks, teacher desks, and student eating areas, 3) Student tables wiped down between use in the lunch tents and lunch rooms and 4) Student desks wiped down between cohort use in 7-10 classrooms,” the report lists.

The way that some of the demands are worded makes it seem that the school was not actively sanitizing the buildings and school equipment at that time.

Additionally, the teachers requested for the recently installed HEPA filters to be turned onto the maximum setting, for Co2 monitoring devices and for high-risk teachers to be allowed to work remotely.

“At a meeting with the union Saturday morning, Hunter Schools Director Lisa Siegmann refused to admit that transmission was occurring within the school and that changed safety protocols were needed,” PSC President Barbara Bowen wrote in a press release from Oct. 18.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in New York County Politics at this link; the writer is the same.