NYC Schools to Close Temporarily Because of Rising COVID-19 rates

November 19, 2020by Michael Gartland and Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News (TNS)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stands at P.S. 188 as he welcomes elementary school students back to the city's public schools for in-person learning on Sept. 29, 2020 in New York City. New York City public schools will shut down temporarily starting Thursday because of surging coronavirus cases. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/TNS)

NEW YORK — New York City public schools will shut down temporarily starting Thursday because of surging coronavirus cases, top city officials said Wednesday.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the closure would be “temporary” in an email to staffers Wednesday afternoon, but did not signal when schools would reopen.

Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the closures on Twitter minutes later after delaying his morning press briefing by at least five hours and counting.

” New York City has reached the 3% testing positivity 7-day average threshold,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, this means public school buildings will be closed as of tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 19, out an abundance of caution. We must fight back the second wave of COVID-19.”

The percentage of new COVID-19 cases has hovered near the 3% weekly average threshold the city uses to close schools for more than a week now, forcing parents to wait with bated breath for days for any indication that would force them into having to adjust their childcare arrangements to the new reality.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others have suggested that de Blasio could change the threshold used to close schools, but such a shift would almost inevitably lead to push back from the United Federation of Teachers, the union that represents most educators in the city.

During a combative press conference in Albany, Cuomo suggested that schools would close regardless if the state designates the city as an “orange zone” microcluster, a move that would also shutter gyms and bring an end to indoor dining.

“(The law) always said that, if, by the state’s numbers, you hit 3%, the schools close,” Cuomo said in reference to the state’s microcluster strategy, which has primarily targeted much smaller geographic areas.

The governor snapped at reporters who asked about the confusion caused by a difference in state and city COVID-19 numbers and how that impacts whether classrooms would remain open.

Per the state strategy, schools within an “orange zone” could reopen if they drastically increase coronavirus testing, but Cuomo admitted that would be a huge lift for the city.

“Any school district in a microcluster, the schools can remain open in an orange zone but they have to do additional testing,” he said.

Sources said de Blasio’s team was frantically hashing out a decision on school closures Wednesday morning as the mayor delayed his scheduled press conference for hours.

De Blasio has stuck to his guns on the rule that all city schools will close if citywide test positivity rate reaches 3% over a seven-day average in order to “keep faith” with educators and families. But he’s suggested in recent days that the city could adopt a new standard moving forward.

The mayor said he would work with the Education Department and educator unions “to figure out what’s the quickest way back and the best standards for that quick turnaround.”

A closure would affect roughly 300,000 students who have been attending some in-person school under the hybrid reopening plan, including many with disabilities who depend on in-person supports and therapy.

The majority of the city’s students are fully remote, though parents had the option earlier this month to opt back into in-person learning.

Pre-K and 3-K programs contracted by the city but run by community-based organizations will remain open, as will the city’s Learning Bridges free childcare program, staffed by community-based organizations. Those programs have offered child care for about 30,000 students at last count, and will prioritize the kids of essential workers during the school shutdown, according to officials.

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(c)2020 New York Daily News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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