Far Rockaway school closes due to COVID spread, the second in NYC in a week

A young boy in a black and orange hoodie conducts virtual learning on his computer, sitting at a black partitioned desk.
Three New York City schools have closed since classes began on Sept. 13. (Laura Faith Kebede / Chalkbeat)

Village Academy in the Far Rockaway section of Queens will close Thursday after health department officials determined COVID-19 is spreading in the school, according to the education department.

It is the second New York City public school closed this week, and the third closure this school year.

As of Wednesday, city data show there had been nine partial classroom closures at the middle school, which shares a building with other schools. The school reported 14 cases among students over the past week and two among staff, according to state data.

Students will transition to remote learning for the next 10 days and can return to in-person learning on Nov. 22. Any student without a device can pick one up tomorrow at the school. 

The co-located schools will remain open. 

“We do not hesitate to take action to keep school communities safe and our multi-layered approach to safety has kept our positivity rate extremely low,” Department of Education spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon said in an email. “All staff at DOE are vaccinated and all students at Village Academy have access to a device to ensure live, continuous learning.”

The closure was announced on the same day that P.S. 166 was shuttered. The school, which sits on the border of Long Island City and Astoria in Queens, saw 22 students and three staff members test positive since Nov. 3.

The fact that there have been so few closures this year, “speaks volumes to all the precautions that were taken to create a safe environment,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Wednesday. 

Frequent school closures last year interrupted learning for students and were a pain point for parents who struggled to juggle work schedules. Citing high vaccination rates (all school employees must be vaccinated) and layers of other safety measures in schools (such as universal masking and increased ventilation) officials significantly relaxed closure rules this year. Health officials will only shutter a school if it’s determined there is “widespread transmission” of COVID-19 among students and staff, but they haven’t provided many specifics for how that determination is made. 

Still, the school year has been full of interruptions for many students. There are currently 140 classroom closures across the city out of about 65,000 instructional spaces. So far this school year, 5,595 students have tested positive for the coronavirus. Since the start of classes on Sept. 13, there have been more than 2,000 classroom closures and more than 3,600 partial closures. 

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Meanwhile, the city has ramped up efforts to get students vaccinated, offering the shot to children aged 5- to 11-years-old in school buildings this week. Yesterday alone, 5,800 students were vaccinated in schools, de Blasio said. So far, more than 31,300 children in that age group have received their first dose of vaccine.

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