New York City public schools, the largest school system in the United States, will remain closed through the rest of the academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Saturday.
“It’s not an easy decision but it’s the right decision,” de Blasio said. “It clearly will help us save lives.”
However, in a press conference later that day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) contradicted de Blasio, maintaining that it was not within the mayor’s authority to decide whether the city’s schools remain closed.
“I understand the mayor’s position, which is he thinks schools should be canceled for the rest of the year,” said Cuomo. But the governor added that “you can’t make a decision just within New York City without coordinating” with “the whole metropolitan region.”
Cuomo further characterized de Blasio’s announcements on the schools as just “his opinion.”
He also noted that the schools may stay closed through June, but the decision had not yet been made.
City government has the power to make decisions on school closures, the New York Times noted. However, Cuomo maintains that in this scenario, it’s his call. By way of explanation, the governor’s team cited “New York State on PAUSE” (a statewide order similar to shelter-in-place), according to Gothamist. The order says that schools statewide will be closed until April 29, at which point “continued closure shall be reevaluated.”
Either way, the contradiction left many New Yorkers puzzled about why there seemed to be little coordination about messaging on such an important issue.
De Blasio and Cuomo have been publicly feuding for years, knocking heads over issues ranging from the city’s subway system to public housing to the fate of a white-tailed deer in a city park.
Contradictory messages from the two political figures led to widespread confusion in mid-March after de Blasio told New Yorkers to be prepared for a shelter-in-place order, only for Cuomo to say that no such citywide order was happening. Just days later, Cuomo announced the “New York State on PAUSE” order.
The city’s schools, which serve more than 1.1 million students, were first shuttered on March 16, after escalating calls from the district’s teachers union and the general public to close them to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Since then, parents, students and educators have begun adjusting to remote online learning systems ― a particular challenge in a city where an estimated 300,000 students don’t have access to a computer or the internet at home, and many students are homeless.
The mayor said Saturday that “distance learning is working more and more every day” and that the city had already loaned out out tens of thousands of tablets and laptops to students who didn’t have them, the Associated Press reported. He added that other students who still need them will get them by the end of April.
Additionally, about 75% of the city’s public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to The New York Times. Because of this, some school buildings have remained open to allow families to pick up free meals.
De Blasio has faced criticism over the initial delay in closing the schools as coronavirus cases climbed in the city. The teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers, said Friday that more than 40 of its members are believed to have died as a result of the pandemic. Union reps have demanded that the city track COVID-19 deaths among Department of Education employees.
Sara Boboltz contributed to this report.