In another sign of the enduring nationwide impact of the coronavirus pandemic, New York City – still the American city with the highest death toll — announced it will again close its schools for in-person learning as of Thursday, Nov. 19.
The announcement came after 2 p.m. ET in a press conference that had been delayed for several hours, adding to many families’ anxiety who feared the closure was coming.
When the new school year finally began at the end of September after two delays, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that when and if the city reached an average 3% positivity rate over a seven-day period of COVID-19 testing, schools would close again. This is the most cautious threshold recommended by the CDC in its school-reopening guidelines. The city hit that number in the past few days.
De Blasio portrayed his decision as a promise kept both to educators and parents.
“We’ve got to keep faith with our school communities and be consistent,” he told host Brian Lehrer on WNYC last Friday. The United Federation of Teachers, the union which represents most New York City instructors, had endorsed sticking with the plan as laid out.
Of the city’s approximately 1 million public school students, only about 300,000 had been attending school in-person on a hybrid schedule, with the exception of some pre-K and special education students who were able to attend full time. The rest are doing remote learning. The shutdown comes only a few days after the end of an opt-in period during which more families could choose in-person learning.
Among parents who had chosen in-person instruction, many were livid over yet another change in plans. Daniela Jampel, a parent of two in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, created a petition to keep schools open that’s collected almost 11,000 signatures.
“It’s frankly ridiculous that you can go to a restaurant and have someone serve you a pizza indoors, but my child is being deprived of an education,” she told NPR. “Our priorities are just backwards.” (New York is still open for limited-capacity in-person dining; so are Washington, D.C., Fairfax County, Va., Detroit, Mich. and Boston, Mass., all places where schools are closed.)
Jampel said not only were her children too young to get much of a benefit from remote instruction, she and her husband needed their kids to be in school for what is also effectively childcare. “It’s just so frustrating how parents and especially working mothers have been just dumped on this entire time.”