Ruling Favors Catholic Schools in Covid Testing Dispute


A Nov. 23 ruling by the New York State Supreme Court on Staten Island granted the relief sought by Catholic schools that the New York City Department of Education provide the same Covid-19 testing for its students as it does for public school students, as required by New York state law.

“We are most grateful for the judge’s swift and favorable decision on behalf of our Catholic school students and their families,” said Michael J. Deegan, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, in a statement released the day of the ruling.

“The law is clear: the health and safety of students in non-public schools are as important as the health and safety of students in public schools. We hope Chancellor Carranza and the City DOE will now do the right thing and immediately provide the appropriate Covid-19 testing in accordance with the law.”

Catholic schools in the archdiocese, along with several Catholic school parents, filed the case Nov. 18 in Richmond County.

The hearing was held Nov. 23, the same day Judge Wayne Ozzi issued the ruling.

The suit sought immediate relief from the city Department of Education to fulfill its legal mandate to provide services described in section 912 of New York State Education Law. The section requires school boards to provide children attending nonpublic schools within their districts with “all of the health and welfare services” they provide to their public school students, including “the administration of health screening tests.” 

The filing asserted that the city had thus far provided Catholic and other non-governmental schools with different and inferior testing options, in clear disregard of the requirements of the education law. 

Given the current spike in Covid-19 cases, Catholic schools and school parents sought emergency relief from the court so that students, families, faculty and staff can continue to educate safely and comply with state guidelines.

Deegan addressed the disparity Nov. 17 on Cardinal Dolan’s radio show, “Conversation With Cardinal Dolan” on SiriusXM channel 129, the Catholic Channel. 

“We’re not asking for anything more than what is being provided for the public school children in New York City and, frankly, throughout this state.”

Cardinal Dolan thanked Deegan for his leadership and said, “This is a case of fairness, this is a case of justice, this is a case of religious liberty. The government has the duty to protect all our kids,” emphasizing “all our kids.”

“Where they’re at is secondary,” the cardinal added.

Catholic schools on Staten Island reopened to in-person learning Nov. 16, after a two-day return to remote learning Nov. 12 and 13 as a substantial portion of Staten Island was recently categorized as a yellow zone in conjunction with the coronavirus pandemic.

The yellow zone classification came as the average Covid-19 positivity rates in many areas of Staten Island rose to as high as 5.2 percent and daily hospital admissions increased.

At issue for Catholic schools is the lack of availability of coronavirus testing, Deegan explained in earlier letters to Staten Island Catholic school families posted on the website 

The city and New York state “can say they are providing a free test kit,” Deegan said at that time, “but they are not providing staff, paying for a lab to complete the processing, nor creating the reports which schools must submit to the state. This is not parity under the law.”

Deegan said that since Sept. 9, Catholic schools have provided safe, in-person learning. Catholic schools in the archdiocese operate independently of New York City public schools, he concluded.