Cited for ventilation problems, these 20 NYC schools will remain closed — for now

Teachers at Brooklyn Technical High School got worried that someone in their community self-reported testing positive for the new coronavirus.
Teachers will not report back Tuesday for training at 10 buildings that need ventilation repairs, the New York City education department announced. (David Handschuh for Chalkbeat)

Ten New York City school buildings will not reopen Tuesday, after inspections revealed the ventilation systems are not safe.

The education department announced the closures, which affect 20 schools, on Monday afternoon, less than a day before teachers are slated to return to their campuses to prepare for the new school year. 

Staff at the buildings with ventilation problems will work remotely, according to the education department. The affected campuses are in three boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. (A full list of the schools is below.) 

Alternative school spaces will be found if repairs can’t be completed by Sept. 21, when students are scheduled to begin in-person classes for the first time since the coronavirus forced buildings to close in March. 

“We expect a number of these repairs to be completed within the next couple of days,” according to a statement from the education department. 

Proper ventilation has emerged as an important tool for battling the spread of the coronavirus, setting the city on a sprint to inspect all of its about 1,500 school buildings ahead of reopening. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza had promised to publicly release the findings of those inspections on Sept. 4, a deadline that the city missed.

Many teachers expressed outrage that they were expected to return to their school buildings with little information about whether the air would be safe. Safety reports released late Friday night by the teachers union, which conducted its own follow-up inspections, did little to calm fears.

For some schools, the United Federation of Teachers checklist showed that more powerful filters that can catch the coronavirus had still not been installed in school heating and cooling systems. For others, inspectors marked that they were “unsure” whether safety measures had been met. 

Many educators had been hoping the union’s reports would be more detailed than what was released, given the union’s previous threat to strike rather than return to potentially unsafe schools. 

“It was basically a let down,” said Marilyn Ramirez, a teacher at the High School for Media and Communication in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, which is not among those shut down. She had hoped that the union inspections would include calculations for how much air was flowing in and out of her room. “There wasn’t enough there.”

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Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement that the union’s “top priority” is “keeping everyone safe.” 

“We will continue to monitor these buildings and other schools to make sure all ventilation problems are solved,” he said in a statement. “Where repairs and upgrades cannot be made, we will work with the DOE to help find alternative space before students return.”

Monday’s announcement marks another last-minute turn for principals to navigate. School leaders say they have borne the brunt of logistical challenges tied to reopening the country’s largest school system under constantly changing circumstances, and often, with little guidance. In multiple open letters, principals had asked the education department to delay in-person classes, citing ventilation among many other safety concerns.  

An education department spokesperson said classroom-level inspection reports will be released to the public on Tuesday, but that many spaces in need of ventilation repairs before welcoming students back to school can still be occupied by staff. 

“Because the risk of acquiring COVID is related to being in close proximity to other people, classrooms that need ventilation repairs can be safely occupied by a single person,” wrote spokesman Nathaniel Styer. “Per our public health experts, rooms in need of ventilation repairs should not be occupied by more than one person until these repairs are made.”

Among the campuses unable to open Monday is Martin Luther King Jr., home to six different schools. The hulking glass campus on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was the site of a now-infamous video that shows inspectors testing airflow by hoisting a stick with toilet paper clipped to the top. Absent much explanation from city leaders about how they are determining whether ventilation systems are up to par, the video sparked concern online. 

A full list of the schools that will not reopen on Tuesday follows: 

Building K045, 84 Schaffer St., Brooklyn

P.S. 45 Horace E. Greene School

Building K842, 1160 Decatur St., Brooklyn

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P.S. 45 Horace E. Greene School annex

Building M490, 122 Amsterdam Ave., Manhattan, Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Campus

The Maxine Greene High School for Imaginative Inquiry

Urban Assembly School for Media Studies

High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice

High School of Arts and Technology

Hunter Science High School

Special Music School

Building M883, 34 West 14th St., Manhattan

P.S. 721 Manhattan Occupational Training Center

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Harvest Collegiate High School

Building M894, 90 Trinity Pl., Manhattan

Leadership and Public Service High School

Building Q222, 86-15 37th Ave., Queens

P.S. 222 Fire Fighter Christopher A. Santora School

Building Q315, 43-18 97th Pl., Queens

The Riverview School

P.S. 110

Building M340, 590 Sixth Ave., Manhattan

P.S. 94

Sixth Avenue Elementary School

Building M620, 111 East 33rd St., Manhattan, Norman Thomas High School building

Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts

Manhattan Academy for Arts & Language   

Murray Hill Academy  

Unity Center for Urban Technologies 

Building M833, 100 Trinity Pl., Manhattan

High School of Economics and Finance

This story has been updated to include the building code and address of each building that has been closed. Additionally, this story inaccurately listed Success Academy Harlem 1 and Success Academy Harlem 3 in M620, based on education department data. Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts is located there. There are 20 schools on the list, not 21 as initially reported.

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