After two false starts, one major change of plans, and even a few threats to strike, the last of some 1,600 city public schools reopened a couple weeks ago.
The city’s middle and high schools were the final chapter of the “phased-in” reopening plan announced Sept. 17 — when the reopening date for all public school students was supposed to be Sept. 21.
Instead, only students in pre-kindergarten and specialized District 75 schools returned to in-person classes that day. Students in elementary and K-8 schools returned to in-person classes Sept. 29, and middle and high school students followed two days later.
During a news conference last Thursday, de Blasio celebrated the monumental effort undertaken by the public school community he said made in-person reopening a reality.
“We did something that other cities around this country could only dream of because we have fought back this pandemic so well for so long, because we had the will and the focus to bring back our public schools for the good of our kids, our families and all of New York City,” de Blasio said. “This is a key moment in our rebirth.”
But that reopening was short-lived for some schools, especially those located in nine ZIP codes across Brooklyn and Queens. There, coronavirus positivity rates were above 3 percent on a seven-day rolling average, forcing the mayor to consider closing schools — and even businesses — in those new hotpots.
de Blasio originally planned to close those schools Oct. 7, but it’s not ultimately up to him. Instead, that decision lies with Gov. Andrew Cuomo who continues to exercise emergency executive powers through the pandemic. He decided Monday public schools in those regions would actually close the following day, Oct. 6 — a day ahead of de Blasio’s proposed timeline.
“These clusters need to be attacked,” Cuomo told reporters on Monday. “I am not going to recommend or allow any New York City family to send their child to a school that I wouldn’t send my child.”
Leading up to the announcement, the United Federation of Teachers union already had concerns about the recent spike in cases with UFT president Michael Mulgrew demanding two weeks ago if test rates didn’t improve in those areas, the mayor should shut down non-essential facilities there — especially the schools.
“The city can’t sit by and let the virus spread in these or other ZIP codes for days until it drives the overall city rate above the seven-day threshold,” Mulgrew said in a Sept. 29 release. “We have advised the city that if infection rates in these areas cannot quickly be contained and reduced, the city must adopt a strategy to close public facilities — including the more than 80 public schools — in these hard-hit neighborhoods.”