For Immediate Release: January 13, 2021
Contact: Abdul Sada / / 631-827-5210


As Students Return After the New Year, More than 135,000 Public Charter Schools Students Remain Excluded from DOE COVID-19 Testing Program

(NEW YORK, N.Y.) – The de Blasio administration is preventing tens of thousands of public school students from returning to school by refusing to provide them with COVID-19 testing, a diverse group of educators and elected officials said today. In a letter to Mayor de Blasio signed by nearly 300 school leaders representing 194 public charter schools, the group, led by the New York City Charter School Center, is demanding the DOE immediately include all of the City’s public charter schools in its testing program so that students can return to the classroom and that buildings, where multiple schools share space, can be safe.

“A public health crisis is no time to play politics with children’s lives,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. “Vaccinations have started bringing us closer to having all schools be in person. However, if the Mayor is serious about returning all public school children to classrooms, then he has to make sure they have access to the very testing his own administration has made mandatory. His administration’s refusal to work with charter public schools shows a lack of commitment to fulfilling his promise to stem the virus and address the devastating learning gaps students are now facing.”

“35,000 of our kids in the Bronx attend charter schools. Mayor de Blasio needs to understand what is at stake and must step up to do the right thing by affording equal access to COVID-19 testing for all students,” said Borough President Ruben Diaz. “This pandemic has tested all of our resolves, but it is only by working together that we can help our students return to school safely while protecting our communities.”

“Denying access to COVID testing amidst a global pandemic is an affront to the 50,000 charter families in Brooklyn that are relying on policymakers to make ethical and responsible decisions,” said Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy Jr. “I hope the mayor and the DOE will do right by our children and provide access to critical testing that not only keeps our schools safe but gives us a better chance at resuming in-person learning.”

To date, all public charter schools, including those located in NYC DOE buildings, remain excluded from the DOE’s COVID-19 testing program and from the city’s Situation Room program, which launched in the fall to inform school communities of positive COVID-19 cases. While charter schools also employ nurses through the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the nurses are prohibited from providing testing, even if they possess the expertise and training. Despite the challenges, charter schools remain obligated to comply with New York State testing mandates.

The DOE testing program requires any student in Grade 1 or higher returning to school buildings to submit a consent form for COVID-19 testing in school by their first day back in school buildings. In-school testing is conducted weekly for staff and students in all reopened school buildings.

Public charter school leaders have spent the summer months planning and developing comprehensive plans to maximize student learning in various learning environments. Their personalized plans account for student and staff safety and seek to meet the needs of their English language learners and students with disabilities, all while being mindful of students’ social and emotional needs.

“The lack of access to testing is a cause of concern for many of our families are afraid to send their children to a school building and are opting for remote-only instruction,” said Christina Reyes, Founder and CEO of Inwood Academy. Public charter schools need and deserve immediate access to on-site testing so that we can continue to deliver high-quality instructions to our students in a safe environment. Until vaccines are widely available to all, the city must step up, do the right thing, and provide our students and staff with regular testing.”

“We want the city to help all public schools, not just some,” said Leslie-Bernard Joseph, Chief Executive Officer, Coney Island Prep. “As we plan for in-person learning, we must prioritize the health and safety of our students and staff, and securing on-site testing is critical to this effort. Public charter schools have done, and are doing, everything we can to get back to in-person learning, and testing is the last major barrier. Our families and communities deserve better than what they are currently getting from the city.”