School campuses could close as early as Monday

With 3 percent positive weekly average looming, hybrid classes might not make it to Thanksgiving


Anyone experiencing whiplash from last March after seeing what appears to be another — and larger — wave of coronavirus cases throughout the country, they’re certainly not alone.

But another first wave-era city policy could soon rear its ugly head: Fully remote learning.

The city’s seven-day average positive coronavirus test rate has been steadily rising for the past few weeks. And while it’s nowhere near what it once was, it’s approaching the troubling number of 3 percent — an arbitrary number elected leaders say could trigger the kind of restrictions experienced last spring. 

If and when the rate reaches 3 percent, all city public school buildings must close and go fully remote for the foreseeable future. And according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, that could happen as soon as Monday.

de Blasio stressed the need for preparedness on "The Brian Lehrer Show" on Friday.

 “This is not something any parent wants to have to deal with, but we should get ready, and parents should have a plan for the rest of the month of November,” de Blasio said. “I think that’s the safe way to think about it: Have an alternative plan for beginning as early as Monday for whatever will help them get through this month if school is not open.”

Friday’s seven-day average of positive coronavirus tests was 2.83 percent. Just the day before, it was 2.6 percent. And although the mayor was willing to amend previous hybrid learning policies — like having multiple opt-in periods — he’s not budging on the 3 percent positivity rate.

“This standard — the 3 percent — I want to make clear is something the city decided,” de Blasio said. “This is a standard we set when we thought we would know the difference between ‘we could keep things safe,’ as we wanted to, versus something what was getting more challenging.”

On the same day, public school principals throughout the city were opening their inboxes to an email from schools chancellor Richard Carranza asking them to start making arrangements for the transition to fully remote classes.

“Out of an abundance of caution, and to keep our school communities safe, I am asking all schools to be prepared for a brief time of fully remote learning systemwide,” Carranza wrote. “While no decision has been made about a systemwide transition to remote learning, as every great school leader knows, we must be prepared for every scenario.”

The Learning Bridges program, as well as community-based pre-K and 3-K programs, are exempt from the school shutdown. They will remain open if and when the weekly average reaches 3 percent.

While the numbers might look a bit grim for the time being, de Blasio remains confident the city can overcome the coronavirus pandemic. After all, the city flattened the curve once — without a vaccine as a more immediate possibility — so why can’t they do it again?

 “I think we have a chance here, obviously, to turn things around,” de Blasio said. “There’s a lot of changing circumstances here. So my hope is that we’re going into a much better time after we get through this immediate challenge.”