New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday afternoon that nearly all public schools in the country’s largest city would stop holding classes as normal this week, and instead transition to online-based learning to help combat the coronavirus epidemic.
According to The New York Times, the closure will affect the city’s 1,800 public schools and over 1 million students. The city plans to completely transition to online learning by March 23, with the exemption of several dozen schools that will be used by the children of essential city workers, such as healthcare employees, reports the news agency.
“We are dealing with a challenge and a crisis that we have never seen in our lifetimes, and it has only just begun,” announced de Blasio in a press conference Sunday, when he revealed that schools would be closed until at least April 20, 2020.
“There is a real possibility that by closing our schools now, we may not have the opportunity to reopen them in this school year,” said de Blasio.
The mayor’s acknowledgment that schools may not reopen until the next academic year comes only a day after the Centers for Disease Control released new school closure guidelines, which suggest that closures may only be effective when implemented for long periods of time, such as eight weeks.
De Blasio was initially hesitant to shut down schools, in part, because many students rely on the district to provide them with free or reduced-price meals, reports CNN.
“I’m very reticent to shut down schools for a variety of reasons,” de Blasio said Saturday morning. “Not just because that’s where a lot of kids get their only good meals, where they get adult supervision, especially teenagers, who otherwise would be out on the streets.”
The Times reports that the closure will be particularly challenging for the city because approximately 114,000 students in the school system are homeless. The city has agreed to devise a strategy for students who have limited access to receive food from the district.
Students without internet access or computers at home will be lent a laptop, so that they can effectively transition to online learning, reports the news agency. The city also has plans to provide internet access to students who do not have it, but the details of that project are unclear.
The decision to shut down the New York City school system was made hours after several local politicians raised the alarm that the public wasn’t taking the coronavirus threat seriously enough.
“I am alarmed at the cavalier attitude of most New Yorkers who still don’t seem to understand what’s about to hit us and what we need to slow it,” Councilman Mark Levine, who is chairman of the Council Health Committee, told the Times on Sunday morning.
“The way to get out of crisis is to act logically and strategically,” said Comptroller Scott Stringer, reports The New York Post. “That is why today, out of an abundance of caution, I am calling for a city shutdown.”