One million students have reincorporated this Monday to the public schools of New York -the largest network in the country-, in which it constitutes the most important experiment on the viability of face-to-face classes when the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the country, with more than 150,000 daily cases. The around 300,000 employees of the local Administration have also put an end to remote work, either with proof of vaccination, or by submitting to weekly tests. The latter option cannot be chosen by teachers, who are required to vaccinate, although they have until September 27 to receive the first dose.
Going back to school in New York represents the epilogue of a fierce controversy between different levels of the Administration – and between Republicans and Democrats – about the mandatory nature of the mask or the vaccine to access the classrooms. Some states ruled by Republicans have openly defied the recommendations of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the federal health agency. In New York, the use of face masks will be mandatory for both students and school workers.
New York therefore says goodbye to personal distance but does not lower its guard: for weeks, showing the digital certificate of vaccination was mandatory to enter restaurants, gyms, museums or concerts. However, the vaccination safe-conduct until now has been a more formal requirement than a real one; From this Monday it will apply theoretically without exception. The rigor of security measures does not seem to reach passengers on public transport, where the mask is still theoretically mandatory but, at the same time, widely ignored.
After the last academic year, in which the city’s schools remained open, with a hybrid system of face-to-face and remote classes, New York will not allow more classes online although parents prefer this option due to doubts about the high contagiousness of the delta variant; the remote was also the preferred modality for the families that course. The mayor of the city, Bill de Blasio, has made it clear in recent weeks: “Our children need to be in school; It is incredible that some have not seen a classroom in the last year and a half ”, stressed De Blasio last Thursday. “[Su ausencia] it has considerable consequences, including health consequences. The best place for children, the healthiest, is school ”. Democrat De Blasio, in the last months of his term, has stressed that the use of masks, hygiene protocols and the random performance of covid-19 tests are enough to guarantee safety in classrooms.
Unlike schoolchildren in Los Angeles, New Yorkers age 12 and older will not need to be vaccinated except to participate in contact sports, such as soccer or basketball, or in extracurricular activities such as theater or music groups. About two-thirds of minors between the ages of 12 and 17 have already been vaccinated. The total percentage of the population exceeds 62% with the full pattern.
The orderly return to school in New York seems to have overcome the worst obstacles, not only because of the resistance of some parents – “the vast majority will send their children back to school,” says De Blasio – but because of the bitter scuffle between municipal authorities and the powerful teachers union, which represents some 800,000 teachers in the public system, on the accommodation of those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, such as allergies, or do not want to do so due to religious objections. After arduous negotiations, the person in charge of the arbitration ruled last Friday in favor of the union and resolved that teachers not vaccinated for any of the aforementioned reasons will not teach classes and perform other types of tasks. The union had declared war on the city over the initial decision to cut the payroll of personnel who did not get vaccinated. “As a collective, teachers have overwhelmingly supported the vaccine, but we have members with ailments or other reasons. [objeción religiosa] to reject vaccination ”, the union had warned. The entrenched and sacrosanct right to individual liberty once again prevails in America over the common good.
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