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Queens Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Requiring State to Cover Cost of COVID Testing at Private Schools

A student’s temperature is taken at a Bronx public school (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Dec. 7, 2020 By Allie Griffin

Two Queens lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would require New York State to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing at private, religious and other non-public schools.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo and Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi sponsored a bill that would require the state to reimburse non-public schools for the cost of coronavirus testing when such testing is mandated by the state.

Currently, private schools must foot the bill themselves, even when the tests are required by the state.

For example, all schools — public or private — that are located within one of the state’s three COVID-19 micro-cluster zones are required to test upwards of 20 percent of their in-person students and faculty weekly. Private schools are expected to cover the cost of this testing.

The new bill would change this. The state lawmakers said the legislation would provide financial relief to the schools, while ensuring that all schools are treated equally. Furthermore, it would guarantee that the necessary testing guidelines are followed.

“Testing is a crucial component of keeping our schools open and keeping our students, teachers, and faculty safe during the pandemic,” Hevesi said in a statement. “New York State did the right thing by making these tests mandatory, it must do the right thing again by not imposing an unfunded mandate on our religious, private and non-public schools.”

The bill earned the praise of the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The Archdiocese of New York — which represents Catholic schools in Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx and counties upstate— sued the New York City Department of Education last month for failing to provide free COVID-19 testing to its students.

The diocese argued that state education law requires school boards— like the New York City Department of Education—to provide students attending non-public schools in their district with the same health services, including the “administration of health screening tests.”

While a judge ruled in favor of the Archdiocese last month, the City is appealing the decision, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Cardinal Dolan said Catholic school students deserve equal services and testing. He thanked Addabbo and Hevesi for their bill.

“New York has a solemn obligation to protect the health and safety of all students and teachers, no matter what the school,” Dolan said. “Our Catholic schools have been enthusiastic partners with the state since this pandemic began. All we ask for is fair treatment for our kids, and that’s what this legislation ensures.”

Addabbo said New York State must provide the funding for necessary testing.

“It is vital for New York State to provide funding for our private, religious, and non-public schools to continue their testing practices,” he said.

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