New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is standing by his decision to keep his city’s public school district ― the nation’s largest ― open amid the coronavirus outbreak, despite a growing number of districts and states across the country closing their schools.
“My blunt fear is if the schools shut down, they will be done for the year, done for the school year, maybe even the calendar year,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
If students are not at school they may miss meals, may not have adult supervision at home, or they could force a parent, whose job is needed amid the outbreak, to miss work to stay home with them, he said.
Still, he said, if at any point his plan “doesn’t make sense, we’ll make a move.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also briefly weighed in on the issue of closing schools at a press conference on Sunday, saying, “It’s not that simple.”
“For many families, the school is child care,” he said. “If you close the schools and the children are home, a large percentage of the workforce may say, ‘I have to stay home and take care of my children.’”
He expressed particular concern for parents who work in health care, emergency response or public transportation.
If you close the schools and the children are home, a large percentage of the workforce may say, ‘I have to stay home and take care of my children.’ New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
“If you can address the negatives of closing the schools, then yes, close the schools. Why? Because that’s totally in line with our density reduction, etc.,” he said.
Keeping the schools open flies in the face of critics who have argued that allowing the city’s roughly 1.1 million students to attend classes will only encourage COVID-19’s spread. There were 269 confirmed cases of the disease in the city as of Sunday, though de Blasio, who declared a state of emergency on Friday, said he expects that number to hit 1,000 within the next few days.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, was among those urging de Blasio to reconsider.
“We don’t suggest this lightly,” he said in a statement last week. “We understand the immense disruption this will create for our families. But right now more than a million students and staff crisscross the city every day on their way to schools, putting themselves and others at risk of exposure and increasing the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities.”
Nearly two dozen states ― the latest being New Hampshire and Minnesota ― have ordered all of their K-12 public schools to close in response to the virus. Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, whose schools are among those closed, told CNN on Sunday that it would “not surprise” him if schools in his state remain closed through the end of the academic year.
Los Angeles, which boasts the nation’s second-largest school district, also announced on Friday that it will close its public schools for at least two weeks, with that timeline depending on the outbreak’s status.
The city during this period will offer 40 “family resource centers” to those affected. These resource centers will provide child care, educational activities, packaged meals and other services. They will be staffed by district employee volunteers who will be paid extra for their time, the Los Angeles Times reported.
De Blasio, when asked whether New York is prepared for a potential citywide school shutdown, said his administration is working on creating alternative programs for students but admitted that things are “far from perfect.”
“It will not be by any means as good by definition as what we do every day when we have a functioning school system but those contingencies are being built as we speak,” he said.
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