SOUTH BRONX SCHOOL: Open Letter to Governor Cuomo

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Open Letter to Governor Cuomo

 The following came into the SBSB newsroom earlier in the week. It is a letter and petition directed to our dear governor requesting that he stop the insanity and inanity, as well as De Blasio's and Carranza's incompetence to keep schools from opening on September 10. 

This letter and petition were created by Marisa Wagner and Tracy LaGrassa, both biology teachers, both with PhD's, both with real life educational experiences, at Bronx Science High School. Who do you think we should listen to? These two dolts, or Drs Wagner and LaGrassa? Both deserve all the kudos.

The Crack Team and myself have read this many times over and we like what we read. This letter and petition obviously is the results of people with brains, foresight and most importantly not named Carranza or De Blasio. You can tell the authors put more time and work into their letter how to reopen the schools than Twiddle Dumb and Twiddle Dumber have.

Please sign the petition. And please use the hashtags on Twitter, #notuntilitssafe and #followthescience. 

I still don't believe schools will open on September 10.

Dear Governor Cuomo,                                                          


As teachers in the New York City public school system, we are proud of how New York, under your leadership, has handled the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. You and your advisors have made public health decisions based on the science. You advocated for and procured what was needed for the medical community. You spoke frankly to the public about what was happening and what had to be done, and, together, we flattened the curve. You are now guiding us through a cautious, phased reopening of the state, adjusting criteria as needed. All of this is toward ensuring that the curve stays flattened. Your leadership during this crisis has helped to ensure our safety, despite the lingering presence of SARS-CoV-2 in our local communities and the increasing prevalence of the virus in states to our south and west.


We now ask that you take that same cautious approach, informed by the best science available, as we consider how to safely reopen our schools. We all want to return to the normalcy of in person learning; HOWEVER, we feel it is irresponsible to reopen our school buildings to children in any capacity until it can be done safely, for the sake of the health of our children, our staff, our families, and New York. We have serious concerns about how we can accomplish this in the NYC public school system with over 1 million students at over 1,600 schools, and in light of impending budget cuts, in time for buildings to reopen in September. Once outbreaks begin to happen in the schools, a second wave of COVID-19 in NYC seems inevitable.


Based on the best science available, what needs to be done NOW to make our schools safe to reopen in the age of COVID-19?


We MUST have a robust testing and contact tracing system in place that includes frequent testing of ALL students and staff, multiple times per week.1 As more data are collected concerning SARS-CoV-2 and children, the evidence is increasingly clear that children of all ages are capable of contracting and transmitting the virus as well as adults do.2 Upwards of 50% of virus transmission happens pre-symptomatically, from infected individuals who have not yet experienced symptoms.3 Viral transmission happens from asymptomatic individuals, those who are infected but never experience symptoms.4 This evidence informs us that temperature checks and self-reporting of symptoms are ineffective measures to prevent virus spread.


If we cannot identify infected pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals in our school communities, there most certainly will be outbreaks that will contribute to community spread throughout the city. Pooled PCR testing to detect viral RNA, recently FDA-approved, could be performed a minimum of twice per week on all cohorts within a school.5 Rapid, inexpensive antigen-based tests for virus present in saliva, akin to home pregnancy tests, could be done at home each day to determine whether or not it is safe for that student or staff member to go to school. Such tests exist but there has not been a push for licensing, manufacturing and distribution.6 We are in this for the long haul, until we achieve the protective herd immunity needed to keep our community safe. We have every confidence that we will eventually have successful vaccines to help us to reach that herd immunity more quickly, but we cannot wait. Frequent testing with rapid turnaround time for all students and staff in the schools needs to be implemented NOW and we would be proud to see New York take the lead on this.


Our physical buildings must be made safe. Although most viral transmission happens via larger respiratory droplets and is mitigated by 6 feet physical distancing and wearing masks, there is evidence of transmission via aerosols, smaller droplets that remain in the air longer and can accumulate in rooms with poor ventilation. Thus HVAC systems need to be inspected and upgraded as needed for sufficient air exchange rates in classrooms and offices.7 Cleaning supplies, soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer and the like must be kept in plentiful supply to reduce viral transmission via contact with surfaces. PPE such as masks and gloves must be made available. We need a means to enforce PPE use and proper physical distancing at all times of the day, including arrival, travel to classrooms, lunch, and dismissal.


Given the current lack of widespread use of SARS-CoV-2 tests that allow sufficient monitoring of our school communities, as well as budget cuts that will make funding all of the necessary safety measures nearly impossible, we have zero confidence that schools can be safely opened by September. Please make the right decision now. Let us begin the school year with 100% remote learning. Let teachers focus on making remote learning engaging and effective for all our students. Let us invest resources and creativity in making the necessary technology available to all NYC students. This is especially important because remote instruction will continue to be an essential component of education until the pandemic is over.

Once a robust test and trace system is implemented in all schools and all physical buildings are safe, and assuming that COVID-19 cases remain at their current low rate in NYC, then a phased return of students to their schools for physically distanced, 6-feet-apart learning can be considered. To accommodate this phased return under the current budget conditions, the safety measures put forth above should be applied in a way that prioritizes first bringing back the students who need in person learning the most.8 

Younger children (e.g., grades K-8) as well as older students who require in person services should be part of the first phase. Younger children are more susceptible to learning loss, need interaction with peers and their teachers for social-emotional development, and need home supervision to benefit from remote learning.9 Many parents of younger children rely on their children being in school to allow them to work.


High school students should be the last to be phased in for school reopening. High schoolers require less parental supervision and can do well with 100% remote learning. In addition, in NYC, while most primary and middle schools are neighborhood schools, requiring a short commute such as a walk to school, most high schoolers travel longer distances, often between boroughs, each day to get to school. Given their longer times on public transportation and their inherently larger social and in-school networks, high school age students have the potential to contribute the most to increased citywide community spread and will be more difficult to contact trace as compared to younger children.


Governor Cuomo, we urge you to lead us through a safe ’20-’21 school year for all New Yorkers. We fear for the health of our students, ourselves, and all of our families. We do not want to have to mourn the loss of any more members of our school and home communities due to COVID-19. We do not want to see any more members of our school and home communities suffer permanent organ damage and chronic disability due to COVID-19.10 We want to see the curve in NYC and New York remain flattened.


New York City Public School Teachers


Marisa Wagner, Ph.D. - Biology Teacher, Bronx High School of Science

Tracy LaGrassa, Ph.D. - Biology Teacher, Bronx High School of Science



  1. Need for frequent, inexpensive testing with rapid turnaround time

  1. Children contract and transmit SARS-CoV-2

  1. Pre-symptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2

  1. Asymptomatic spread of  SARS-CoV-2


  1. Pooled RT-PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2 RNA is FDA-approved

  1. Rapid at home antigen tests exist and are sensitive enough to detect transmissible virus

  1. Aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV2

  1. Alternative NYC plans for phased re-opening, prioritizing younger grades first

  1. Younger children need in person learning more than older children

  1. COVID-19 morbidity for even mild cases

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