Coronavirus Update: Mayor de Blasio doubles down on keeping NYC schools open

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Mayor de Blasio insisted New York City schools will remain open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said in an update on Friday evening.

de Blasio said attendance dropped Friday to 68%. This week's average was 84.2%, as compared to this time last year, which was an average of 92.4%.

"Many, many parents want us to keep schools open," de Blasio said. "Depend on it. Need it. Don't have another option."

New York City's teachers unions and a number of local politicians disagreed, worried about the risk of teachers and students being exposed to the disease.

More schools were closed in New York City Friday, as pressure mounted for officials to consider closing the largest public school system in the nation amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

City schools announced they will be implementing 'social distancing,' saying they will be canceling or offering web-based alternatives of extracurricular activities such as athletic games and practices, school-wide assemblies, parent-teacher conferences, school field trips, school plays, and recitals.

Two schools on Staten Island closed after a student tested positive for coronavirus: New Dorp High School and The Richard H. Hungerford School, a special needs school on the campus of the Michael J. Petrides Educational Complex.

Brooklyn College Academy, a public high school on Brooklyn College's campus, is also closed after a college student reported as positive.

Four Brooklyn Occupational Centers were also closed after a teacher self-reported as positive.

Meantime, all elementary Catholic academies and parish schools throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Brooklyn and Queens, will close next week through March 20.

"Monday will be used as a professional day for teachers to develop their distance learning plans," Superintendent of Schools Thomas Chadzutko, Ed. D., said in a statement. "The Schools Office anticipates that beginning on Tuesday, students of the Diocese of Brooklyn Catholic schools and academies will have access to online learning. While we understand that not all families may have access to online learning, we have directed all academies to utilize alternative instructional processes."

Additionally, all 45 of New York City's Success Academy Charter Schools, serving over 18,000 kids across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, will be closed until further notice.

Faculty will prep remote learning Monday through Wednesday, rolling it out to students Thursday.

Parents citywide fretted about whether New York City's public school system, with its 1.2 million pupils, might be shut down, a step taken by large cities such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia, which will close all schools effective Monday.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is advocating for such a move, issuing the following statement:

"It is time to close our public schools for the safety and well-being of the students, teachers, and staff. This is not an easy decision, but we must take aggressive measures to stop the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19. Teaching and learning cannot take place under these circumstances. The city must immediately come up with a plan that includes childcare relief for families who need it so that our essential workers, especially healthcare workers, can continue with their duties. We must also ensure meals and medical care are provided for students who rely on schools for these crucial services. I have repeatedly said it is not time to panic. But it is time to act. We must take bold, decisive measures to do everything we can to limit the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19. This pandemic presents an enormous challenge for us as a city. But I have complete confidence in our ability to get through this together. The decisions we make will be difficult ones, but we must move forward with the common good in mind. We must limit the spread of this virus while at the same time working to protect our most vulnerable friends, family, and neighbors. In times of trouble New Yorkers never fail to come together. By doing so, we rise to every occasion. I have no doubt that we will weather this crisis as we have past crises. And in the end we will be stronger. This is the New York way."

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew echoed Johnson's sentiment.

"We recommend that New York City follow the example of affected jurisdictions around the region, the nation and even the world in closing our public schools," he said in a statement. "We don't suggest this lightly. We understand the immense disruption this will create for our families. But right now more than a million students and staff crisscross the city every day on their way to schools, putting themselves and others at risk of exposure and increasing the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities. Many local area schools, religious and public, have already closed, as have schools in the entire states of Michigan, Maryland, Ohio and Kentucky. The schools of entire countries have been closed to help contain the spread of the virus. We must find ways to keep our children safe, and to see that they are fed. We must do all we can to help ensure that our students can continue to learn. But we have reached the point where continuing to keep our classrooms open poses a greater lasting threat than the disruption that will result from school closings."

Still, Mayor Bill de De Blasio said he hopes to avoid a closure of either the schools or mass transit, citing health care workers and first responders on the front lines of the crisis who would face hurdles in getting to work without the transit system and with children home from school.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the decision to keep schools open is generally driven by parents who rely on the school system as a vital social safety net, as specifically by the roughly 100,000 students either living in temporary housing or shelters who depend on schools for meals and other programs.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

INTERACTIVE: What we know about COVID-19 - US map, prevention, cases

School closings across the Tri-State

Latest Coronavirus News Latest news on coronavirus in New York and New York City
Latest news on the New Jersey coronavirus cases

Latest news on Connecticut coronavirus COVID-19
Copyright © 2020 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.