Mayor announces closure of NYC public schools, cancellation of Queens borough president special election

Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech

New York City public schools will close this week until April in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

School will be suspended until after spring vacation starting Monday, March 16, de Blasio said during a press conference on Sunday, March 15. He said the the first attempt to reopen schools will be on Monday, April 20, but he added that they may have to go out for the whole school year.

“It was a very painful, difficult decision,” de Blasio said. “It became clear to me as we went through projections … the threat was growing so intensely that we knew we had to. We’ve never seen anything like this. Yeah, I went through ebola, but nothing like this.”

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said he wants people to think of tomorrow “as a snow day.” Carranza said that while students will be at home, teachers and school administrators will return to schools on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to undergo training in order to implement remote (or online) learning.

Carranza said it is critical for parents to sign up for a New York City Schools account in order to receive all the updates and materials they’ll need for their kids. He added that while New York City’s public schools are closed on Monday, breakfast and lunch will still be served for students who need it.

“It’s not going to be like regular school, it’s going to be impossible for it to be,” Carranza said.

He said that the DOE wants to provide as much flexibility as possible for students, similar to the summer school module. Carranza said that as they work with teachers, details will become clear. De Blasio added that teachers who are sick should stay at home during the training period.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced schools in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk will close for two weeks beginning Monday, March 16.

“Our goal is to slow the spread of the virus to a rate that the healthcare system can manage, and one of the ways to do that is to reduce density,” Cuomo said in a press release. “Closing the schools is a good idea but you have to anticipate and correct any unintended consequences — we have to ensure children who rely on free school meals continue to get them and that there’s adequate child care, especially for healthcare workers and first responders who are parents of young children. We will close these schools but it needs to be done with these contingencies in mind so that children are not harmed and our hospitals aren’t understaffed — otherwise we cut off our nose to spite our face.”

The news comes a few hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio maintained that the city’s public school system, the largest school system in the country, would stay open as rising pressure from parents, teachers and elected officials mounted.

The plan to shutdown public schools comes on the heels of  P.S. 306 in Woodhaven undergoing cleaning and disinfection after a school safety officer tested positive for coronavirus.

Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee urged Queens families to keep their kids home from school the coming week before the official announcement.

Many Queens elected officials also called for schools to close as the number of coronavirus cases rose to 329 confirmed cases in New York City as of Sunday morning (78 in Queens, 72 in Manhattan, 53 Brooklyn, 21 in the Bronx, 16 in Staten Island — de Blasio didn’t have the most recent tally) with five total deaths.

Speaker Corey Johnson, Councilmen Francisco Moya, Robert Holden and Jimmy Van Bramer, Senator Jessica Ramos and Michael Gianaris, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and Comptroller Scott M. Stringer Stringer all urged the mayor to shutdown schools and implement a summer school model.

“Closing schools is the right decision for New York City. As a dad with two children in public schools and as the son of older parents, I thank Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, UFT President Mulgrew and 1199 SEIU President Gresham for doing the right thing and prioritizing the health and safety of all New Yorkers during this difficult time,” Stringer said in a statement. “Parents, teachers and kids deserve every protection we can provide during this public health crisis, and I am relieved that the city has heeded the calls of local leaders, educators, families and medical experts from around the world in taking this critical step to keep our city safe.”

Cuomo also called on 1199 SEIU President George Gresham, New York State Nurses Association President Judy Sheridan Gonzalez, Greater New York Hospitals Association President Ken Raske and United Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew to work together to find a system that will ensure children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs will continue to receive that support, and parents will be provided access to child care as needed, including temporary daycare centers.

De Blasio also said the special election for Queens borough president, slated for March 24, is now canceled. On Saturday, March 14, Cuomo said Queens residents could vote via absentee ballots, after candidates Councilman Donovan Richards and Anthony Miranda called for postponement and Councilman Costa Constantinides and former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley asked for absentee ballots. More details to come.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.