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New York City’s public school system shut down by coronavirus

City says it will ramp up remote learning for 1.1 million school children

March 15, 2020 Mary Frost

Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a shaky voice, announced late Sunday afternoon that school in New York City is suspended immediately because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“This is a very troubling moment for me,” the mayor said at a live streamed City Hall press conference.

The mayor had been resisting calls to close the schools for days, but the overwhelming reality of cascading COVID-19 cases and increasingly vehement calls from parents, health officials and teachers forced his hand. Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted the decision just minutes before de Blasio’s scheduled 5 p.m. press conference.

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The New York City school system, the largest in the nation, serves 1.1 million children. The schools will be closed until, at a minimum, April 20. De Blasio said he feared that the entire school year might have to be cancelled. The city will undertake extra efforts to ensure seniors graduate, he said.

“The notion of our public schools being closed, a lot of kids being unsupervised, it’s a painful decision,” de Blasio said. But after seeing the COVID-19 models, “the threat was growing so intensely that we had to accept it.”

De Blasio said he feared large groups of unoccupied teenagers gathering in close proximity, perhaps getting into trouble — and spreading the disease.

“I know what teenagers are going to do. I had teenagers. I was a teenager,” he said. The city is mulling over the idea of outside activities for school kids, pending the weather.

The mayor said that the city will provide physical locations for essential workers — including health care, first responders and transit workers — to drop their children off so the city’s essential safety net stays intact. Some special needs children may also be accommodated. The child care locations will open March 23, the mayor said.


Remote learning, on a ‘wartime footing’

The New York City DOE is setting up a remote learning system “on a wartime footing” for grades K through 12, de Blasio said. Many teachers have no familiarity with online teaching, and many families lack computers or broadband.

Teachers will stay home Monday. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, all teachers will come to their schools, where they will train to use remote learning programs.

“We’re working to supply technology for any kids who need it,” de Blasio said, adding that he expects “the system will improve with each week.”

Students will begin remote digital learning on March 23. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said that about ten days worth of material is already on the DOE website, and efforts are underway to translate the material into other languages. Schools that don’t currently have a presence on Google Classroom will receive instructions on how to set up accounts. Other companies and resources are being added.

For the 300,000 kids who may not have internet access or computers, the city is purchasing Apple devices at reasonable prices, Carranza said. Apple, T-Mobile and Google “are stepping up to help make this a reality.”

Carranza added, “We’re not giving these away. We are purchasing these for the city.” He said Comptroller Scott Stringer “moved heaven and earth” to help make this happen.

“It’s not going to look like regular school. We want to provide as much flexibility for students and teachers to continue to be engaged,” Carranza said. DOE is hoping to prevent a gap similar to a “summer slide,” he said.

The DOE’s central office will continue to operate and send out admissions information, Carranza said.

School meals

Over the next five days schools will be open for “grab-and-go meals” on a transitional basis. Families can come to the schools briefly to pick up breakfast and lunches each day for the next five days at 7:30 a.m., or the school’s normal opening time.

“In the coming days we’ll talk about how to make sure food is available for kids at various locations,” de Blasio said. “Our nutrition workers are going to continue to come to our schools.”

Any person 18 years old or younger can come to school and pick up a meal to go, de Blasio said.

Senior centers will also close starting Monday. Meals will be available from those locations on a grab-and-go basis, just like from schools. Some senior centers may deliver.

Updated coronavirus figures

As of Sunday afternoon the city had 329 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

De Blasio said the breakdown of cases by borough was 78 in Manhattan, 72 in Queens, 53 in Brooklyn, 21 in the Bronx and 16 in Staten Island. That only adds up to 240 cases, because the by-borough figures are not yet available for the most recently confirmed cases.

There have been five deaths in the city so far. These include an 82 year old Brooklyn woman and a 79-year-old Brooklyn woman, a 78-year-old man, a 56-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman. All these individuals had pre-existing medical conditions.


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