Cuomo relents, announces NYC school buildings will remain shuttered for the academic year

Gov.Andrew Cuomo announced school buildings across the state will remain closed for the academic year. Here, the governor provides a coronavirus update at a press conference on Thursday in the state capitol. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

After squabbling over whether to shut down New York City schools for the rest of the year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that school buildings will remain closed through June as the state battles the spread of the coronavirus. 

Cuomo said infections have not slowed enough to safely reopen schools for more than 4 million students across the state. He had previously ordered schools and non-essential businesses closed until May 15 — a date he has gradually extended since March. 

“How do you operate a school that’s socially distanced?” Cuomo asked at a press conference Friday. “We don’t think it’s possible to do that in a way that would keep our children and students and educators safe, so we’re going to have the schools closed for the rest of the year.” 

The decision was unsurprising, as New York remains at the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus epidemic. Across the country, 43 states and the District of Columbia have ordered or recommended school building closures through the rest of the academic year, according to a tally from Education Week

Cuomo said districts should begin drawing up plans for restarting schools, while avoiding offering any projections for whether buildings will open in September. It’s unclear what school will look like in the fall: The head of the city’s teachers union has suggested temperature checks, universal testing, and staggered school days may be necessary.

The governor and mayor had previously struggled to get on the same page about whether the city’s schools would shut down for the rest of the academic year, which runs through June 26.

De Blasio initially announced on April 11 that buildings in the country’s largest school system will remain closed, informing state officials of his decision at the last minute — through a text message, according to the New York Times. Hours later, Cuomo insisted that the extended shutdown was just the mayor’s “opinion.” The governor said a final decision would need to be coordinated with neighboring states and counties, leaving more than 1 million city students and 75,000 educators in a lurch. 

On Friday, the mayor said online learning will stretch into the summer for “any students who need continuing help,” though the education department has not yet released a plan for how summer instruction will work. 

In a statement, city teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said the decision “gives educators, parents and elected officials time to tackle the challenges of re-opening the buildings and figuring out the right balance of in-person and distance learning for when they do.”

Middle school students will be automatically enrolled in summer school this year if they receive a “course in progress” on their report cards, according to the city’s new grading policies for remote learning. Though the June and  August Regents exams have been canceled, students who don’t pass those courses this spring will be required to pass the class over the summer in order to be exempt from exams in the future.

The transition to online learning has been rocky, particularly for the city’s most vulnerable students, such as those with disabilities and those who are learning English as a new language. Thousands of families have struggled to get devices and internet access to virtually attend class and complete assignments. Roughly 14% of students don’t log on to remote learning in any given day, according to recent attendance figures.

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