De Blasio warns parents to prepare for possible school closures Monday

Mayor Bill de Blasio warned parents of New York City public school students to prepare for the real possibility that all schools would be closed to in-person instruction as early as Monday.

Speaking during a radio interview, de Blasio said on Friday that the seven-day positivity rate of coronavirus citywide was 2.83%. The rate was 2.61 a day earlier. The threshold established for the closure of schools was 3%.

“I want to urge parents to have a plan ready that they can put into effect as early as Monday," de Blasio said during his weekly talk on WNYC radio. “Parents should have a plan for the rest of the month of November.”

The city's public school system this fall became one of just a few large, urban districts in the U.S. to welcome students back into classrooms. A little more than a quarter of the city's 1.1 million pupils have been attending classes in person between one and three days a week.

Just a few weeks ago, the return was going well enough that officials decided to give a little shove to the majority of parents who had opted to stick with all-remote learning: Send your kids back now, parents were told, or forfeit the option of having them return later this academic year.

But as the Sunday deadline to make the switch loomed, the city also approached the threshold the mayor set to suspend in-person learning and return to an all-remote learning environment.

Some parents expressed frustration that they were being asked to make a decision about sending children back into classrooms, when the city itself is not even sure what will happen next.

"The information that we have seems to indicate that these next few months are not going to be so great,” said Jared Rich, who has kept his son out of pre-kindergarten so far but would consider sending him in the spring when teachers can open windows and take students outside.

The mayor, Rich said, is “forcing us to make the decision to put our kids in person at a time when it’s not just a surge; this is out of control what’s going on.”

“It’s so upsetting,” the Brooklyn attorney said.

Over the summer, city officials gave parents a choice: They could do hybrid instruction, where students would be in classrooms some days, but learning online others. Or, they could go all-remote.

About 280,000 students signed up for classroom instruction, far fewer than officials expected.

The city initially said parents would have a chance each quarter to switch from remote to blended learning. The decision to end that system of quarterly choices was made “for the sake of stability,” Education Chancellor Richard Carranza said.

The teachers’ union said the single opt-in period undermines parents’ trust.

“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Until now, the city has relied on targeted closures, rather than citywide shutdowns, to keep schools from fueling the pandemic.

Since the start of the school year, 1,800 students or staff in the system have tested positive for the virus. As a result, nearly 1,100 classrooms have gone through temporary closures. At least 115 school buildings have been closed for 24 hours because of positive tests; 62 have been closed for 14 days or more.

De Blasio, a Democrat, has been asked repeatedly whether he would consider changing the threshold for a citywide closure, given that some schools in Europe have remained open even as businesses have been ordered closed. Germany began a four-week period of restrictions Nov. 2, closing restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities, but keeping schools and shops open.

Children in neighboring France continue to go to school while most adults are confined to their homes for all but one hour a day.

Several states have kept schools open for in-person learning in areas where there are far more infections per capita than in New York City. While the city has seen an increase in cases lately, it now ranks far better than most other places in the country.

De Blasio said it was “crucial” to adhere to the standard he set over the summer.

New York imposes new restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms

On Thursday, de Blasio said the closure would be shorter than when the pandemic first broke. Schools initially closed in March and did not reopen to in-person classes until late September and early October.

"I think this is the fastest possible turnaround," said de Blasio. "Families need schools open whenever they can be open."

The guidance for parents and schools regarding a potential closure is in the works, but de Blasio said the decision would be made quickly once the data on the positivity rate is made available in the morning.

"That school day would be completed. The next school day would be shut down and everything would go all-remote," said de Blasio.

There were 874 new coronavirus cases reported in New York City Thursday.

"But there is still a chance to avert that. It's so urgent that everyone help us to protect our schools which have been extraordinary safe," said de Blasio.

Across the state, new restrictions were expected to go into effect Friday. Any establishment with a state liquor license, including bars and restaurants, must close at 10 p.m. 

Also, gyms will be forced to close statewide at 10 p.m. each night.

COVID-19 numbers in NYC schools remain low

"If you look at where the cases are coming from, if you do the contact tracing, you'll see they're coming from three main areas and we're going to act on those three areas," Cuomo said. "It's bars, restaurants, gyms."

The state is also limiting limit indoor gatherings at private homes to 10 people. This would mean families could not have large Thanksgiving gatherings.

With the Associated Press

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