The entire public school system in New York City will be closed on Thursday, wrote school chancellor Richard A. Carranza in an email to school principals in a worrying signal that a second wave of the coronavirus has arrived. The schools have been open for personal lessons for almost eight weeks.
“As of this morning, November 18th, the city has reached this test-positive threshold across the city. As a result, the DOE will temporarily close all public school buildings for face-to-face learning on Thursday November 19th. ”Carranza wrote shortly after 2pm on Wednesday, about four hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio was due to hold a press conference. Mr de Blasio confirmed the news in a tweet.
The shutdown, which caused the city to hit a 3 percent test positivity rate over a seven-day moving average, is possibly the most significant setback to New York’s recovery since spring, when the city was a global epicenter of the outbreak.
It was also a big disappointment for Mr. Blasio, who became the country’s first major city mayor to reopen school buildings. The move to distance learning will disrupt the education of many of the 300,000 or so children who have attended face-to-face classes and create childcare issues for parents who count on their children to be in school for at least part of the week.
The number of cases in New York is rising so rapidly that further restrictions appear likely. Mr de Blasio said that indoor food should be reassessed; Only Mr. Cuomo has the authority to close indoor dining rooms.
With 1,800 schools and 1.1 million students, New York has by far the largest school system in the country. The city’s public school families, most of whom are low-income and black or Latin American, have endured confusion about whether and when schools will open or close for about eight months.
Mr de Blasio had put the reopening of the school at the center of his quest to revitalize the city and he has said repeatedly that distance learning is inferior to teaching in the classroom. But many teachers and parents have said that the city hasn’t done nearly enough to improve online learning.
The mayor said the closure will be temporary, but warned that the schools would not automatically reopen if the seven-day positivity rate dropped back below 3 percent.
He said it would be too disruptive for children and educators to switch between open and closed schools every few days and suggested waiting for the spread of the virus in the community to stabilize at a slower rate. He also said the city will soon release details on how it plans to reopen schools.
The mayor and the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, came under heavy criticism as the 3 percent shutdown threshold approached. Mr de Blasio has said repeatedly that the union has not put pressure on him to set the threshold; Instead, he called the metric a “social contract” in a recent radio interview, arguing that it was a symbol of how seriously the city was about the safety of the school.
City officials said the number was agreed by the mayor’s health team as part of a package of security measures they described as the strictest in the world.
The mayor set the 3 percent threshold in the summer when the average positivity rates were 1 percent or below. He has specifically pointed out that the number is less of a strictly scientific measure and more a symbol intended to reassure parents, educators and the union.
In a recent interview, Michael Mulgrew, the union’s president, said he thought the 3 percent threshold was solid. He cited warnings from experts that even with low school transmission, infections could spread from the wider community to schools, increasing the likelihood that students and staff will carry the virus into their homes and neighborhoods.
Mr Mulgrew said he was dismayed that schools were going to close so soon, claiming that expressing frustration over the closure of some New Yorkers was hypocritical.
“We had a lot of criticism from people when we opened schools,” he said. “They didn’t want them to be opened. A lot of it came from the same people who are now screaming because they want them to be open. “
He also urged New Yorkers to take the virus seriously in order to bring the numbers back down. “If we want to keep our schools open, it’s up to everyone else,” Mulgrew said, taking precautions.
While the city’s parents await conflicting messages from the mayor and governor about schools, Mr Cuomo said at a recent news conference that he had no plans to interfere with the city’s efforts to close schools.
But he said “the problem is not coming from the schools” and encouraged the city to develop new metrics for a closure once the schools reopen. The governor has announced that the state will only force schools to close if they are in a region where the 7-day positivity rate hits 9 percent.
Mr Cuomo also said that the spread of viruses was more common in bars and restaurants, as well as at indoor family gatherings, despite not having ordered restaurants or gyms to close.
Several other major school districts have recently moved closer to reopening, either by outlining plans for children to return to classrooms or by resuming face-to-face learning for children with disabilities and other vulnerable students.
But many other major boroughs, including Los Angeles and Chicago, haven’t reopened yet, though Chicago plans to bring younger kids back to the classrooms in January. Philadelphia recently delayed reopening schools, and Detroit suspended face-to-face classes because of high test positivity rates.
In bad timing, New York said last month that families only had until Sunday to decide whether their children should return to face-to-face classes at all, likely by at least next September. Parents had to make this decision knowing that schools could close at any time.
Students who have returned to class should resume classes between November 30th and December 7th. You will now have to wait weeks or even months to get back to the school buildings.
Many of the city’s charter schools have not yet opened in-person lessons.
The city has been criticized by educators and parents for having relatively little focus on improving distance learning compared to preparing school buildings for students, even though around 70 percent of children have taken full-time distance learning.
Even students enrolled in the city’s hybrid learning system spent at least half of their week in virtual classes and the rest of their lessons in person.
Some students, including some children in homeless shelters, have not yet received iPads or laptops from the city and do not have adequate internet access.
Many teachers have reported that technology issues sometimes make it difficult for children to sign up for classes. Teachers also indicated that they received little training in how to better teach online.