‘More difficult decisions will be needed’: Queens lawmakers, Community Education Councils react to school shutdown

schools chancellor richard carranza
Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

The decision to close schools didn’t come easy for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carranza, but after mounting pressure from teachers, parents and fellow elected officials and coronavirus cases continued to rise, they finally announced the shutdown on Sunday.

All New York City public schools, the nation’s largest school system with 1.1 million students and 75,000 teachers, will be closed until at least Monday, April 20 — but could stay closed even longer. As a result, students will begin remote (or online) learning on Monday, March 23.

Although the logistics are still to-be-determined after the Department of Education conducts training for teachers who will now switch to online educating, Queens lawmakers and Community Education Council (CEC) leaders saw it as a necessary measure to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

“Chorus of calls to close schools in NYC became deafening. Mayor then closed schools, but now questions, as well as potshots, abound. Let’s pull together as New Yorkers and help each other through this pandemic. More difficult decisions, perhaps curfew, will be needed,” Senator John Liu said in a statement.

“I agree with Mayor DeBlasio’s decision to close NYC schools until April 20th” Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal said. “This is going to be a difficult time ahead. This is the right call. We will get through this.”

Senator Jessica Ramos told QNS that as a public school mother, she’s glad they closed the schools and is eager to see what remote learning will look like.

Most importantly, Ramos wants students and parents to take advantage of the Grab-and-Go program the DOE has in place so students who depend on their schools’ daily breakfast and lunch still have that option.

From 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Any and all students, can go to any school to pick up their breakfast and lunch — they do not need to be enrolled in the school where they pick up their meals. Meals will be available outside of the main entrance of every school.

Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

CEC 24 President Phil Wong told QNS that all they’ve been doing since the announcement is talking to parents and spreading the information they have so far via social media. They were mainly waiting to hear what the DOE plans to do about childcare.

The city announced it will open about 100 “regional enrichment centers” in all five boroughs on Monday, March 23, which will be sites to accommodate school-aged children of parents who are first responders (health care workers, and transit workers).

The centers will be open from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekdays, with each room allowing a maximum of 12 children.

Councilman Barry Grodenchik took to Twitter to remind New Yorkers of the severity of COVID-19.

“This underscores just how difficult the crisis we are facing is,” Grodenchik wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Councilman Robert Holden told QNS that he believes the mayor and chancellor should have acted sooner.

“While I am glad our schools are closed to protect our students, teachers, staff and the city at large from the further spread of COVID-19, the mayor and chancellor did not act fast enough,” Holden said in a statement. “The mayor has been indecisive at a time when quick action is critical to slowing this virus down. We need that to change immediately.”

But CEC 27 President Willie Jones Sr. told QNS that “it was prudent for them to shut it down when they did, even though most people wanted it to be earlier.” He said that they had to work out at least some of the logistics in order to do it.

“It’s better for students to stay home,” Jones said. “We’re happy that students will be able to keep learning from home, even though it’ll be an inconvenience for many but the DOE is working to give them the resources they need. We’re happy they won’t miss out on so much education.”

The DOE partnered with Apple to provide students with iPads, with 25,000 of them to be distributed next week. Spectrum is also offering free WiFi and broadband (high-speed internet) for the next 60 days to households with children ages K-12 and college students.

CEC 30’s Co-Presidents Roberto Cruz and Deborah Alexander told QNS that they wish they knew more details as “this uncertainty causes anxiety among parents and students,” but the D30 community “inspires confidence that we will get through this together.”

“In our district, we’ve always prioritized the value and well being of each of our students. By extension, the Mayor’s efforts to safeguard the health of all New Yorkers, young and old, is critical as we face uncertain developments in the weeks ahead,” Cruz said. “While we appreciate the gravity of the decision to suspend schooling, we recognize it’s only part of the efforts each of us must make to secure the safety of the most vulnerable in our community.” 

CEC 29 told QNS that they stand in solidarity with the mayor, chancellor and rest of the School District 30 community. At the moment, they’re figuring out logistics to conduct public meetings remotely, in accordance to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order that partially suspends the requirements of the Open Meetings Law.

“We continue to encourage all of us to utilize proper sanitary practices,” CEC 29 wrote. “We must all do our parts to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, and to ensure that our children will have consistent opportunities to excel during these challenging times.”

Additional reporting by Jenna Bagcal.