Public schools in New York City will close on Monday to fight the spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday afternoon, after facing mounting pressure from the teachers union and the city council.
“This is not something in a million years I could have imagined having to do,” said Mayor de Blasio. “But we’re dealing with a challenge and a crisis that we have never seen in our lifetimes.”
The decision to close 1,800 schools from Monday through at least April 20 is the most dramatic measure the city has taken so far to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the city, where there have 329 confirmed cases and five related deaths as of Sunday evening. The closure will affect 1.1 million children and their parents, and 75,000 teachers. Students who need meals will be provided a grab-and-go service at school, with breakfast and lunch available through April 8.
“For everyone who is wondering why this has been such a difficult decision—it’s because I know the full cost of shutting our schools,” the mayor said at the Sunday press conference. “It’s very painful. It’s going to be very difficult for a lot of families.”
The Department of Education will launch into remote learning across the city on March 23, and has promised to distribute digital devices to approximately 300,000 students who do not have access to technological resources. Students who live in temporary housing or in poverty will also be prioritized.
Students and all school personnel will stay home on Monday, but principals and teachers will report to school from Tuesday to Thursday to receive remote learning training, said New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza.
“We feel confident that students will be able to continue to engage academically. It will be the same thing as a student in the classroom with a teacher,” said Carranza. “I have tremendous faith in the teachers of New York City and the administrators of New York City.”
The city will also open several dozens of regional enrichment centers on March 23 to serve students who are children of first responders or from the vulnerable population, as a resolution to the problem that has kept the shutdown plan away from the mayor’s table until today.
Both the mayor and the governor were reluctant to do this earlier because they thought it would be a huge challenge for parents who depend on schools for meals for their children, and those who don’t have daycare options, including emergency and health care workers. But Gov. Cuomo shifted his stance on Sunday afternoon and urged the mayor to close the city’s schools, and ordered the city to come up with a contingency plan for childcare and food within 24 hours.
“Bureaucracies do not adjust quickly, but sometimes they have to, and this is one of those times that they have to, and I want them to sit down, figure it out,” he said during a conference call, according to the New York Post.
Earlier on Sunday, the United Federation of Teachers threatened to file a labor lawsuit Monday if the mayor refused to shut down schools. “Stop this insanity and close our school systems down,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the union, during a press conference before the mayor’s announcement. “We must put the health and safety of our students and school communities above everything else.”
School is scheduled to reopen on April 20, but there is a “real possibility” that the shutdown will continue through the rest of the academic year, according to the mayor.