What we still don’t know about school closures

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at De Blasio's media availability on November 18th.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at De Blasio's media availability on November 18th.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at De Blasio's media availability on November 18th.

What we still don’t know about school closures

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said new safety protocols need to be created to reopen schools again.
November 19, 2020

Yesterday’s announcement of the closure of New York City public schools was not exactly a surprise – Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week that students, teachers and parents should be on standby for a shutdown as soon as Monday. But just because some people saw the closure coming doesn’t mean it wasn’t a chaotic event that left many parents wondering what comes next – and with little other recourse than to protest the closure outside City Hall this morning, citing the low rates of transmission of COVID-19 that has been shown to occur in schools so far.

Showing up hours late to a scheduled morning press conference, de Blasio announced that New York City schools would shutter on Thursday, switching to 100% remote learning, as the city crossed a 3% coronavirus positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. That 3% was the threshold set to trigger school closures back in September when reopening plans were drawn up between the city and teachers unions. The confirmation that schools would close came shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own press conference, during which he pushed back on questions from reporters about plans for New York City schools. De Blasio later said that he and Cuomo had discussed the matter at length yesterday.

What’s clear so far is that schools will be closed through the Thanksgiving holiday, and possibly longer. “I hope to be back in the next few weeks,” de Blasio said on Thursday of schools reopening. 

But it’s not clear when that reopening will happen – or even what metrics will have to be met to trigger it. A plan for reopening was not in place prior to the decision to close, meaning that teachers, students and parents are now settling in for an indefinite return to full-time remote learning without knowing what will bring them back to the classroom. De Blasio has said that the city is working on new safety protocols and criteria to establish the reopening of schools now, and that he expected that criteria to be released within the next few days.

The mayor has put a particular focus on increased testing in schools, saying that a reopening plan – whenever it materializes – will include new requirements for testing, citing the current low participation among students in the current program. “I guarantee you that plan will be an even heavier emphasis on testing,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “When we reopen, everyone who comes into that building, all of those kids have to have a testing consent on file. Testing is going to become more of the norm.”

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.
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