A Covid health screening website for New York City schools crashed on its first day of operation as the nation’s largest school district returned to the classroom.
The NYC Department of Education has been developing plans for months to ensure all of its nearly one million students can return to school this year safely.
But as students and teachers donned their masks on Monday for the first day of full, in-person learning for the first time since March 2020, the site crashed at around 8am.
Students and teachers are required to fill out the health survey before school each day, certifying that they do not have any COVID symptoms.
But the site was not loading for many people ahead of the first day of school, and for others it was loading very slowly, according to the New York Post.
A young girl handed staff members at Brooklyn’s PS 245 a form on Monday morning, as the city’s health screening website remained down
A boy listens as his paperwork is reviewed as he arrives for the first day of class
A mother talked to her son as they arrived at the school for the first day
The New York City Department of Education tweeted that its Health Screening tool that students and teachers are required to fill out before school each day was back online, about 45 minutes after it crashed
The city’s schools first went remote in March 2020, and reopened for some in-person learning last year, even as many parents continued to have their children learn virtually.
But this year, there will be no more remote options for students, despite the persistence of the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19.
The site was back online at around 8.45am, the Department of Education tweeted, noting that if anyone was still having issues accessing the online tool, they should fill out a paper form instead or inform school staff verbally.
‘Our apologies for the short period it was down this morning,’ the tweet read.
But many did not seem reassured by the tweet, responding that the technical problems spelt out a difficult school year.
One person, with the username @NYC_stateofmind, wrote that there was ‘mass chaos’ as a result of the outage, with ‘lines around the block from multiple schools, making huge crowds’ that ‘made everyone late on a stressful day.’
Another, @mirnyc, wrote that the DoE was ‘not inspiring confidence here,’ as the site was down ‘for over an hour,’ and both his children were late to class ‘due to long line for paper forms.’
And Nadine Baldasare tweeted: ‘You mean the “short period it was down” right before the start of the day?
‘We’ve got crowded sidewalks with parents filling out paper forms while not wearing masks, thanks CDC for that guidance,’ she wrote, adding that there was ‘absolutely irresponsible guidance from both agencies.’
Shannon Edwards, meanwhile, said: ‘Kids already stressed had a terrible start as [they] furiously tried to gain access to the form (mine with tears welling in their eyes).
‘It was obvious that it would crash – how could the largest school system in the US not be prepared?’
‘What a joke,’ she said.
A young girl walked passed a ‘Welcome Back to School’ sign outside of PS 245 on the first day back to in-person learning since March 2020
A mother accompanied her daughter as they walked to the first day of school
A mother kisses her son as he arrived at PS 245 on Monday
Many parents took to Twitter to share their frustrations with the technical difficulty
The technical difficulties came as parents throughout the Big Apple already had questions and concerns about the reopening process.
Under the district’s plans, masks will be required for all students and staff members, and every teacher in the city will be required to get at least their first dose of the COVID vaccine – with no test-out option – by September 27.
As of Monday, there were 1,144 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city, with at least 66 hospitalizations and at least eight daily deaths.
The city’s Department of Health also reported a total of 125 new cases throughout the city per 100,000 people over the past seven days, as about 67 percent of all New Yorkers had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and about 61 percent were fully vaccinated.
On Friday, New York City School’s Chancellor Meisha Porter said that 74 percent of the city’s teachers have had at least one shot and she is confident all staff members will have gotten at least a single dose by the deadline.
‘This is a moment where we’re talking about the public safety of the entire community,’ she told CNN. ‘So I am the biggest cheerleader: Let’s get folks vaccinated.’
Students are not required to be vaccinated, although it is ‘strongly encouraged’ for everyone over the age of 12.
Those that are participating in sports and extracurricular activities deemed ‘high risk’ are required to be vaccinated.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a news conference last week that about 65 percent of students have gotten at least one dose.
History teacher Kevin Jacobs said he is ‘really excited to see students again.’
‘Zoom was not a great way to teach, and I think for kids, it wasn’t a great way to learn,’ he told CNN.
‘I think a lot of teachers, whether they’ve been working a long time, as I have, or were brand now, maybe feel like they worked harder to do online schooling than they’ve ever worked before. And that’s not suggesting we want it easier this year.
‘To come back in, there will be lots of new things that are hard, lots of new stuff to do.’
New York City kept schools open for most of the last school year, with some students doing a mix of remote and in-person instruction, but the majority of families chose all-remote learning. That choice won’t be available this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio has insisted.
‘Our kids need to be in school and it´s unbelievable that some kids haven´t seen the inside of a classroom for a year and a half,’ the mayor said Thursday. ‘There are massive consequences to that, including health care consequences. The healthiest, best place for kids to be is in school.’
Samiya Ramdial’s mask was firmly in place for the start of first grade at Public School 33 in Manhattan – and so were her spiffy black sneakers.
‘These are great shoes,’ Samiya said. ‘I can dance in these.’
Under the city’s blended learning model, Samiya was in kindergarten in person part-time last year and learned remotely the rest of the time.
‘She preferred in person of course, because she got to see her friends, and she enjoys being with the teachers as well,’ her mother, Christina Brea, said.
Ten-year-old Sincere Hughes was headed to his first day of sixth grade at Lab Middle School a few blocks away after spending all of last year in remote school. ‘It was kind of, like, hard to work,’ Sincere said.
His mother, Christine Colon, said she was excited for the new school year even if the transition to in-person learning might be tricky. ‘I want him to meet new friends,’ Colon said. ‘It was time for him to be back outside interacting.’
There is no vaccine mandate for students 12 and over who are eligible for inoculations, but vaccinations will be required to participate in contact sports like football and basketball as well as some extracurricular activities like band practice and theater.
About two-thirds of the city’s 12-to-17-year-olds are currently vaccinated.
In the U.S., anyone 12 and older is eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration´s vaccine chief said last week he is hopeful children as young as 5 will be eligible to get vaccinated by the end of 2021.
De Blasio, a Democrat in his final months in office, has insisted that masks, cleaning protocols and random COVID-19 testing makes school buildings safe. But he has gotten pushback both from parents who want their children home and from unions representing teachers and other school staff members.
One caller to WNYC during the mayor’s weekly radio appearance Friday said she was ‘absolutely beside myself with fear of sending my 6-year-old into school.’
‘We believe this is an extraordinarily safe environment,’ de Blasio responded. ‘We´ve proven it and the most important thing is our kids have to come back.’
Asked if some students might just disappear from the system because their virus-wary parents won’t send them to school, de Blasio said ‘the vast, vast majority’ of parents would bring their children to school.
The city has been in arbitration with the United Federation of Teachers, which represents almost 80,000 teachers in city public schools, over issues including accommodations for teachers who say they have health issues that prevent them from being vaccinated.
The arbitrator ruled late Friday that the city must offer non-classroom assignments to teachers who aren’t vaccinated because of medical and religious exemptions.
‘As a group, teachers have overwhelmingly supported the vaccine, but we have members with medical conditions or other reasons for declining vaccination,’ UFT president Michael Mulgrew said in a news release.
Meanwhile, other unions for city workers have objected to the mayor’s decision to order employees back into workplaces, saying that if they were performing their jobs well remotely, they should be allowed to continue.
The Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group for unions representing municipal workers, has also threatened legal action if the mayor moves to eliminate the option of weekly virus testing for workers who opt not to get vaccinated.
And a group of restaurant and bar owners has sued over the vaccination requirement for indoor dining and employees, saying the city has overstepped its legal authority.