POLITICS

New York City, The Largest School District In The Country, To Close Its Schools

The school district is set to start shuttering classrooms in an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday that New York City schools would close Monday in an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Public schools on Long Island and Westchester County are also going to close. 

New York City schools will be closed until at least April 20, according to de Blasio. At maximum, schools would close the rest of the year. A remote learning system is getting set up for later in March, though the mayor acknowledged that a lot of kids do not have computers or internet access at home. 

“We’re going to be doing the best we can to supply those kids. ... I am distraught at having to take this action,” de Blasio said at a press conference. 

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza estimated that about 300,000 kids in the district do not have access to a computer or internet. The city is working with partners to serve those children and will prioritizing students without devices, students in temporary housing, and students living in poverty, he said. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reads to children in a prekindergarten class at P.S. 130 in 2014 in New York City.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reads to children in a prekindergarten class at P.S. 130 in 2014 in New York City.

Closing the schools is “a decision we call the last resort. We’re at the last resort,” said Carranza at the press conference. 

Over the next few days, school locations will be open for grab-and-go meals. In general, breakfast and lunch will be made available to students through April 8, said Carranza. 

New York City public schools serve over 1.1 million students. It is by far the largest school system in the country, by hundreds of thousands of students.

Nearly three-quarters of students in New York City schools are considered economically disadvantaged. The closures could pose a particular hardship for these families. Parents who cannot telecommute for work may have to scramble to find child care, or give up wages. Many families rely on schools to provide their children with breakfast and lunch. 

De Blasio expressed concern over the possibility of children going unsupervised and said the city was looking into the possibility of holding some youth programming going forward. 

The city had previously been closing specific schools for 24 hours if a student or staff member was confirmed to have the coronavirus. There are 1,866 public schools in New York City, including public charter schools. The mayor and governor had held off on closing the schools, even under pressure, calling it a last resort.

“We are going to fight tooth and nail to protect our school system,” de Blasio said on Thursday.

Around the country, a growing number of school districts have been closing in recent days. On Friday, the second-largest school district in the nation, the Los Angeles Unified School District, announced it would be closing for at least two weeks. More than a dozen states including Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania have also announced that they would be shutting down schools for several weeks.

As of Saturday, 57,000 schools nationwide had closed ― affecting at least 25.8 million students, according to a count by EdWeek.

The New York City teachers union ― the United Federation of Teachers ― has been urging the city to shut down schools, saying keeping schools open “poses a greater lasting threat than the disruption that will result from school closings.”

“We don’t suggest this lightly. We understand the immense disruption this will create for our families,” said a statement from UFT President Michael Mulgrew on Friday. “But right now more than a million students and staff crisscross the city every day on their way to schools, putting themselves and others at risk of exposure and increasing the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities.”

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance saying closing schools for two to four weeks at a time does not appear to impact the rate of the virus’s spread. However, it said that longer-term closures ― eight weeks or more ― could have some impact.

Keep up with the latest updates on the coronavirus at our live blog.

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