The city’s public schools will close until further notice effective tomorrow, Nov. 19, due to the surging numbers of positive Coronavirus cases, city officials announced today.
The closure, which is coming about six weeks after schools reopened after being shuttered since Spring of last year, was reportedly first announced by Schools Chancellor Richard in a letter to individual school administrators, followed by several Tweets from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Education.
De Blasio said in a late afternoon press conference that the decision was made to close the schools and move some 300,000 public school students to remote learning after the city reached the seven-day average 3 percent average threshold it had set for infection rates of those testing for the virus that would again trigger the closure.
“We spent some time confirming it and double-checking it, because it is exactly on the number of 3.00 percent. But unfortunately, as of today, on our seven-day rolling average for coronavirus positivity, New Yorker City had exactly 3.0 percent, and, as a result, we do need to close our schools for the coming days,” de Blasio said.
As part of the announcement, the Department of Education also put out a series of informational Tweets in multiple languages to parents and students relating to the closures including:
- FREE MEALS: All families can continue to go to any school building (9am-12pm on weekdays) to pick up three free grab-and-go meals. No identification or registration is necessary. Halal and kosher meals are available at some sites. Learn more: http://schools.nyc.gov/freemeals.
- 3-K & Pre-K classrooms in district schools & DOE Pre-K Centers will be closed. If your child attends a program in a community-based center that is not located in a public school, or attends a family childcare program that is part of a DOE network, it will remain open.
- Learning Bridges: the City’s free childcare program for children in 3-K through 8th grade, will continue to serve families enrolled in blended learning. The city will continue to give priority to children of essential workers. Learn more and apply at http://schools.nyc.gov/learningbridges.
- DEVICES: do you need a device, need technical support or to fix a broken device, or are dealing with a lost or stolen device? Call DOE’s IT Help desk at 718-935-5100 and press 5 to get assistance. Visit http://schools.nyc.gov/devices for more information.
De Blasio said the decision came after he spoke with Gov. Andrew Cuomo several times today amid confusion as the state measures the threshold differently than the city regarding the number of Coronavirus infections. He also hinted the Cuomo will likely take additional closure of businesses in the near future.
“Obviously, he [Cuomo] has laid out some of the additional measures the State likely will be taking quite soon in New York City. Additional restrictions across the board that will affect a number of different industries, a number of different parts of life in this city because we are dealing with a bigger problem all over New York City and state, all over the country, the region,” said de Blasio.
“We have to do more to fight back this second wave. So, the State has made very clear additional restrictions are coming and coming soon. But we’re focused on now is making sure that we are working with all families to get them the remote learning they need in the interim, that we’re putting more stringent measures in place so we can get schools back up and running soon,” he added.
Around Queens and the city, various officials reacted differently to the news that schools are again closing. Among those were several officials who questioned how much of the news was given over social media and in a scattershot fashion without clear facts.
“As a public school parent and a legislator, I am deeply troubled by what this added uncertainty and instability means for the working families in our city who need more than an afternoon to plan for childcare, and the lasting effects this second shutdown could have on our kids,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos (D-Jackson Heights, Corona, Astoria, Woodside, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst). “After nine months of this it is concerning that the Governor and Mayor did not come with a plan or consistent numbers to mitigate confusion and keep New Yorkers safe. We need clearer answers and more transparent data from our leadership.”
NYC Comptroller and Mayoral Candidate Scott Stringer said it doesn’t pass the common sense test while city kids will no longer have access to in-person instruction, people are still dining indoors, going to gyms, and working in non-essential offices.
“Thousands of families, including mine, will continue to muddle our way through this school year, and Elyse [Stringer’s wife] and I are enormously grateful to the boys’ teachers and their colleagues throughout the city. We absolutely must turn our attention to the 100,000 New York City public school students without internet access — 13,000 of whom are in homeless shelters, many with special needs. These are the children government must be fighting for, and failing them is a moral failure,” said Stringer.
“Two weeks ago I proposed recommendations to give these students internet access to enable remote learning and provide them with much-needed support. Mayor de Blasio owes it to our children to adopt my recommendations or find another way, immediately, to make sure all of our children — most especially those in need — can learn even as the doors of our schools are shut.” he added.
City Councilmember and City Comptroller Candidate Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) said it is a massive failure of leadership to have allowed schools to close before the city got a handle on the virus spreading in indoor restaurants, bars, and gyms, worship and other gatherings.
“Schools should be the last things to close, not the first,” said Lander. “How hard or harmful would it have been to keep school open tomorrow and Friday, close next week for Thanksgiving, and then get on the same page with a good plan afterwards? With a little time for families and teachers to plan, kids to take their books home today, and without the hours of uncertainty and anxiety.”
But Michael Mulgrew, president of the politically powerful United Federation of Teachers (UFT) union, which represents all regular public school teachers, agreed with the city’s decision.
“The city established the three percent infection rate threshold to make sure that schools did not become centers to spread the coronavirus. Since the three percent rate has been reached, education will continue but all students will be learning remotely,” said Mulgrew. “Now it’s the job of all New Yorkers to maintain social distance, wear masks and take all other steps to substantially lower the infection rate so school buildings can re-open for in-person instruction.”