De Blasio, Cuomo remain at odds over decision to keep schools closed for rest of school year

Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled down Sunday on New York City’s decision to close its school buildings for the rest of the year, a day after the governor implied it was not de Blasio’s decision to make.

“Keeping schools closed will protect New Yorkers. Period,” de Blasio said at a Sunday morning press conference. He added that he and Chancellor Richard Carranza “are confident in the decision that we made,” given that the city is the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus epidemic.

De Blasio’s attempt to project finality comes after a day of mixed messages that frustrated New Yorkers. But clarity did not win the day: About an hour later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo refused to back down from his stance that the city’s schools may actually reopen this year.

“We’re not going to reopen any school until it is safe from a public health point of view,” Cuomo said. “Am I prepared to say what we will be doing in June? No.”

The conflicting comments from city and state leaders will likely stoke confusion in the nation’s largest school system, which educates over 1 million students, even as a closure for the rest of the academic year remains the most likely outcome. The school year is scheduled to end on June 26.

The back-and-forth began Saturday morning, when the mayor announced the city’s school buildings would shut down for the rest of the academic year — a call he said was made after consulting with aides, public health experts, and union officials. Just hours later, Cuomo said that was just “the mayor’s opinion.”

The governor acknowledged Sunday that de Blasio’s stance is “not unreasonable,” but said the decision to keep school buildings closed should be made in concert with neighboring states and counties.

“We have to have a coordinated approach on the reactivation, if you will. Schools, business, workforce, transportation — it all has to be coordinated,” Cuomo said, adding that decisions should be made with officials from New Jersey, Connecticut, and surrounding New York counties.

The disagreement over school closures is far from the first time the mayor and governor — both Democrats — have publicly clashed over a major public policy decision.

Statewide, Cuomo has ordered schools to be closed until at least April 29. Schools that want to be closed beyond that must get special permission from the state, according to the order.

De Blasio brushed aside concerns about his authority to close schools on Sunday. “To me, this is not about legal or jurisdictional questions, this is a moral question,” he said.

He also acknowledged that the city only notified the state of its decision on Saturday morning — suggesting there had not been close coordination with the governor before the city made the announcement.

Still, de Blasio implied he was uninterested in squabbling publicly with the governor. The mayor praised Cuomo’s leadership and said the two have been in close communication throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

“I respect the governor. I think the governor has done a very good job during this crisis,” de Blasio said.