New York City public schools will close temporarily, Department of Education chancellor Richard Carranza wrote in an email to parents on Wednesday, following a rise in coronavirus infection rates in the city.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly said that the city would close public schools if the seven-day average coronavirus positivity rate reached three percent. He announced that the city had reached that milestone on Wednesday and confirmed schools would be closing.
New York City has reached the 3% testing positivity 7-day average threshold. Unfortunately, this means public school buildings will be closed as of tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 19, out an abundance of caution.
We must fight back the second wave of COVID-19.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) November 18, 2020
Carranza said on Wednesday that the coronavirus positivity rate in public schools was just 0.19 percent.
The de Blasio administration set the three percent city-wide rate as a benchmark as part of negotiations with the New York teachers’ union to reopen city schools. Union head Michael Mulgrew defended the benchmark as “an appropriate number” in a Friday interview with the New York Times. At a press conference on Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that “in my opinion,” de Blasio set the three percent benchmark “in a collaboration with the parents” of public school students.
The decision will leave approximately 300,000 students who took advantage of hybrid in-person and virtual lessons without the option of coming physically to the classroom.
Public schools do not appear to be driving recent high infection rates. Currently, coronavirus outbreaks in New York City are concentrated in Staten Island, the Bronx, and certain neighborhoods of Queens and Brooklyn.
The closure represents a significant setback for de Blasio. New York public schools serve over one million students, the largest district in the U.S.
Some parents had hoped the city would revise its threshold for closing schools, or that Governor Andrew Cuomo might step in to overrule a closure. However, when asked on Wednesday if the state might keep schools open in the city, Cuomo flatly ruled out the option in a testy exchange with a reporter:
Gov. Cuomo just had a mental breakdown when a reporter simply asked a question about whether or not schools are open in NY tomorrow.
He literally started screaming at the reporter. pic.twitter.com/NBem5zpnK0
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) November 18, 2020
“You’re confused,” Cuomo told the Wall Street Journal‘s Jimmy Vielkind when asked to clarify the state’s rule in school closings.
“I’m confused, and I think parents are still confused as well,” Vielkind replied.
“No, they’re not confused, you’re confused” Cuomo said. “Read the law and you won’t be confused.”