The city's rolling 7-day coronavirus positivity rate crossed the 3% threshold, prompting the move to close school buildings and switch to remote learning. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said it was not a happy day for the Department of Education.
The district was among the first to reopen for in-person learning. And for eight weeks, about 300,000 of the city's 1.1 million students navigated a mixed schedule of in-person and at-home learning.
That means 800,000 students were already solely learning from home, but remote learning can be problematic for families without computers, internet or child care.
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Parents and students react
On Wednesday, staff could be seen carrying out bags and boxes when they left their schools at dismissal.
It was hard for some to not feel a sense of whiplash. Mayor Bill de Blasio said they warned parents days ago that the moment might come.
"The 3% positivity rate that was in the plan submitted by the city to the state in terms of shutting the schools of putting the schools into remote, was put forth by the city's doctors and confirmed by the doctors we were working with that in fact that is the number," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
After several conflicting remarks with the governor, parents were then left to make sense of the news. Some were grappling with it better than others.
"The children in our neighborhood that attend private schools, that attend Catholic schools and attend charter schools will still have their schools open, and my daughter's will be closed," parent Karen Vaites said. "This gives parents a really clear insight into the culprit here about why our schools are closing. You know our city is beholden to its unions and our mayor doesn't seem to be able to handle that situation."
As concerns remain about access to learning tools and about when precisely the city schools can re-open, what's clear is New York City students are clearly concerned about a setback once again.
"You get to be lazy but at the same time, it's not good because you're not productive throughout your day," said 9th-grader David Feliciano.
City leaders react
The mayor is under heavy fire for the decision and city officials were also quick to react to the news.
Comptroller Scott Stringer is "angry about the leadership that failed." Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said "there is absolutely no leadership present."
However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is refusing to say the mayor made a mistake, but continues to suggest schools should stay open.
The Family Homelessness Coalition released a statement urging NYC not to forget about the 114,000 homeless children at high risk of falling behind.
"For the 114,000 homeless children in New York City, school closures aren't just frustrating -- they are a danger to their well-being. For a child living in shelter, temporary housing, or doubled up, remote learning is hardly an option. Many lack basic necessities like Wi-Fi access, a working tablet or even physical space to study and learn. New York City cannot stand idly by as our most vulnerable children fall even further behind, spiraling deeper into a cycle of poverty. City officials must act expeditiously to give homeless children a fighting chance at making it through the school year. Now is the time to set up hotspots at the community level in close proximity to all family shelters, increase access to Learning Labs, and expand education resources for children struggling to learn in temporary housing. Every child has a fundamental right to an education. Our city's homeless and housing insecure children are no exception."
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called it a devastating moment:
"This is a devastating moment for New York City. Through the Council's oversight, we know that remote learning is failing many of our most vulnerable students, including special education students, those who live in homeless shelters, and those from low-income neighborhoods. We also know that many students do not have the devices they need for remote learning, while others are waiting on Wi-Fi. This was unacceptable in the hybrid learning model and catastrophic now that we are going fully remote. The City needs a detailed plan to keep all students' learning on track. This should have been done already, but since it hasn't, they must move quickly to put a plan in place.
"The de Blasio Administration also needs to present the public with a reopening plan. This has been a disaster for parents and caregivers. The least the Administration can do is to be honest about what to expect going forward."
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