NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City's entire public school system will close for in-person learning starting Thursday and through Thanksgiving, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, while also warning about additional restrictions coming soon across the board.
"Beginning Thursday, November 19, all school buildings will be closed, and all learning will proceed remotely for all students, until further notice," Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said in a letter to parents. "You will hear from your principal shortly about next steps for you and your student. Please note that this is a temporary closure, and school buildings will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so."
Mayor de Blasio also confirmed the temporarily closing of public schools via Twitter -- private schools will not be impacted.
During his daily briefing Wednesday, the mayor said the positivity rate is "exactly on the nose" of three percent on the seven-day rolling average.
De Blasio expressed his disappointment on the decision while feeling strongly about bringing schools back.
"We all are in fact are feeling very sad about this decision because so much work has been put into keeping the schools open and opening them up to begin with," he said. "We intend to come back and come back as quickly as possible."
The mayor said "the week after Thanksgiving is the earliest" schools could reopen, but they "can't say for sure" because they still have to figure out the standards for reopening.
De Blasio said the city is working with the state by having a number of conversations with the governor on what it would take to bring schools back.
"I want that to be clear," he said. "We have stringent health and safety standard right now. We have to raise that even higher to be able to bring our schools back, but that is exactly what we are going to do."
The mayor also urged for more testing and implored parents to return the parental consent form for students to be tested.
He said the plan to bring students back will be announced in the coming days.
Parents of the 300,000 New York City public school students currently learning in-person were left in a state of confusion Wednesday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted did not exist.
"They're not confused," a combative Cuomo said of parents. "You're confused."
In fact, there is quite a bit of confusion, in no small part because the state and the city use different metrics to measure the coronavirus infection rate.
By state measure, the city's seven-day rolling average is 2.5%.
"The City reports results from the day tests are taken," the spokesperson for the mayor said. "The State reports results the day the results come in. Reporting on tests from the day they are taken is the general epidemiological consensus. It gives the city the most accurate view on the levels of COVID on a given day."
As Cuomo was speaking in Albany, New York City public school principals were notified schools would close beginning Thursday because the city's seven-day rolling average had exceeded three percent.
However, there have been some reports that this letter was followed up by a call that stated it was still being discussed.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded to the move by de Blasio.
"The city established the three percent infection rate threshold to make sure that schools did not become centers to spread the coronavirus," Mulgrew said. "Since the three percent rate has been reached, education will continue but all students will be learning remotely. Now it's the job of all New Yorkers to maintain social distance, wear masks and take all other steps to substantially lower the infection rate so school buildings can re-open for in-person instruction."
Mulgrew reiterated the UFT wants schools to be open again . He says he needs the public's help to "put this virus at bay" by lowering the citywide positivity rate.
Conversely, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran "strongly" disagreed with the mayor's decision to close schools.
"As Nassau County Executive, I want to make clear to residents that I will do everything I can to keep our schools open," she said. "Thanks to the hard work of school administrators, school buildings have not been a major vector of transmission in Nassau. Our contact tracers have found that the virus is primarily spreading at social gatherings where little to no precautions are taken. Closing schools should be the absolute last resort. Isolating children from teachers and classmates is detrimental to young people's mental health and educational and emotional growth. Closing schools causes further economic devastation, and disproportionately harms families in lower-income communities. If we all do our part, we have the tools and know-how to get through this winter without a complete shutdown. Let's continue to wear our masks, practice social distancing, and avoid unsafe gatherings to save lives, keep kids in school, and ensure businesses can stay open."
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams criticized the leadership of the de Blasio administration.
"As a public school parent, I am angry about the leadership that failed to make it possible to keep schools safe and open," Stringer said. "It is a sad irony that schools are closing on the same day my office went to court to stop the stonewalling of our investigation into the de Blasio Administration's response to the first wave. And while our kids will no longer have access to in-person instruction, people are still dining indoors, going to gyms, and working in non-essential offices. This does not pass the common sense test."
Williams said "there is absolutely no leadership present."
"All day today, as they have for many months, New York City's parents and principals, teachers and students waited for leadership to explain whether and when the city's public schools would be closed," he said. "While they finally have an answer, there is absolutely no leadership present."
Council speaker Corey Johnson also reacted to the school closures.
"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."
Parents are already gathering and plan on hand delivering a petition Thursday to both the mayor and governor that calls on the mayor to keep schools open.
Meanwhile, private schools will remain open, including schools run by Brooklyn Diocese and the Archdiocese of New York.
"Catholic schools operate independently of New York City public schools," Superintendent of Schools Mr. Michael J. Deegan said. "Catholic schools will remain open until our Health and Safety Task Force, working with officials from the New York State Department of Health and the governor's office determines otherwise."
Cuomo also announced Wednesday New York City would go to an orange zone if the positivity rate eclipses three percent.
Cuomo said schools can "test out" of orange zone, or reopen, if they remain closed for at least four days, clean and test people as they come back in.
If the city hits three percent and want to reopen schools in an orange zone, Gov. Cuomo said there needs to be a different formula for schools to test out. He added they cannot test every student in New York City.
On Monday, de Blasio said the city had "a fight ahead" to keep schools open.
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