New York closes schools to help fight coronavirus surge

Mayor Bill de Blasio says US’s biggest public school system will halt in-person learning

A school crossing guard in Brooklyn, the week before Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s schools would be closed. Photograph: Anna Watts/The New York Times

A school crossing guard in Brooklyn, the week before Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s schools would be closed. Photograph: Anna Watts/The New York Times

 

New York City is shutting schools to try to stop the renewed spread of coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a painful about-face for one of the first big US educational systems to bring students back to classrooms this autumn.

The nation’s largest public school system will halt in-person learning on Thursday, the mayor and schools chancellor said.

The city had said since summer that school buildings would close if 3% of all the coronavirus tests performed citywide over a seven-day period came back positive.

As the rate neared that point last week, Mr de Blasio advised parents to prepare for a possible shutdown within days.

The mayor said the rate has now passed that mark.

The city’s more than one million public school students will now be taught entirely online, as most already are. As of the end of October, only about 25 per cent of students had gone to class in school this autumn, far fewer than officials had expected.

In-person school resumed on September 21st for pre-primary and some special education students. Primary schools opened on September 29th and high schools on October 1st.

At the time, the seven-day positive test average rate was under 2 per cent.

Even as the school system stayed open, more than 1,000 classrooms went through temporary closures after students or staffers tested positive, and officials began instituting local shutdowns in neighbourhoods where coronavirus cases were rising rapidly.

New York City’s school system, like others across the nation, halted in-person learning in mid-March as the virus spiked.

While many big US school districts later decided to start the autumn term with online learning, Mr de Blasio pushed for opening school doors.

The Democrat argued that students needed services they got in school and that many parents were counting on it in order to get back to work.

To keep students spread out, the city offered in-person learning only part-time, with youngsters logging on from home the rest of the time.

The reopening date, originally set for September 10, was postponed twice as teachers, principals and some parents said safety precautions and staffing were inadequate, with the teachers’ union at one point threatening to strike.

The city agreed to changes, including hiring thousands more teachers and testing 10 per cent to 20 per cent of all students and staffers per month for the virus.

When high schools finally opened their doors, Mr de Blasio hailed it as “an absolutely amazing moment” in the city’s recovery.

“This is an example of what makes New York City great,” he said at the time.

“We did something that other cities around this country could only dream of because we have fought back this pandemic so well for so long.” – AP