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New York City Classrooms Prepare for Coronavirus

WILL WALKEY, HOST: Pencils, paper, and plenty of hand sanitizer – that’s what most New York students are carrying in their backpacks this week. As of today, state officials have confirmed 33 cases of coronavirus in New York. That’s enough to make parents worry about the spread of germs in places where their kids spend most of their time. Janmaris Perez spoke to New York City’s parents and teachers to see how they were preparing to handle the epidemic.

JANMARIS PEREZ, BYLINE: Health officials say one of best tools we have to fight the spread of coronavirus is good old fashioned hand washing for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap.

SOUND: MIRABEAU GODVIN washing his hands, singing alphabet.

PEREZ: That’s how long it takes 4-year-old Mirabeau Godvin to sing the A-B-Cs as he washes his hands.

GODVIN: It’s all, it’s done.

PEREZ: He’s in pre-K at the Alexander Robertson School, a private elementary school in the Upper West Side. His teacher Kristin Leyko Picciotto says she’s doubling up on the cleanliness reminders.

PICCIOTTO: We've just vamped up our regular protocol because it's a big part of our regular teaching habits to make sure they're practicing good hygiene all of the time.

PEREZ : Picciotto’s being careful not to alarm students or make them too fearful. But the administration is already discussing take-home packets and virtual music classes in case schools have to close. Head of School Irwin Shlachter says the epidemic is putting schools in a tough position.

SHLACHTER: We're seeing a situation that we have not seen in a very, very long time. And I don't know that there's an easy way to fix this.

PEREZ: Just a few miles away in Lenox Hill, the Browning School says it’s stopped a long-standing tradition of shaking each student’s hands when they arrive. Jan Abernathy is the communication director for the private, K-12, boy’s school.

JAN ABERNATHY: This is a culture of you see somebody, you might hug them, you might shake their hand. We're reinforcing a culture of like, hey, let's just stand back and wave or just say hello.

PEREZ: Earlier this week, two school districts in Westchester County closed their facilities after multiple students’ families were quarantined for possible coronavirus. The New York City Department of Education is currently working on contingency plans for school closures, but at a press conference this week, Chancellor Richard Carranza said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

RICHARD CARRANZA: I think we all agree that closing schools is probably the last option because of the, just the myriad of issues that creates for not only students, parents, teachers, etc.

PEREZ: It’s especially tough for working parents. Anastasia Rashkova’s, daughter goes to P.S.145 in the Upper West Side. She says arranging childcare would take lots of juggling.

ANASTASIA RASHKOVA: My husband would probably have to take some time off from work and I would have to figure out my work situation as well in order to make sure that it's affordable for us.

PEREZ: Teachers are also wondering how they can afford to stay home from school. Bryan Murphy teaches at a private high school in the Bronx. He has a lot of unanswered questions.

BRYAN MURPHY: Are we going to get free paid time off for that? Are we gonna have to burn all of our sick days? I think I have two sick days saved up. So that means that I would be taking unpaid days? We haven't gotten any information on that so far.

PEREZ: School officials say the decision to implement closures will only be taken at the direction of public health experts. They’re urging New Yorkers to listen to facts and not respond to fear. And of course, keep washing those hands.

Janmaris Perez, Columbia Radio News.


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