By KAREN MATTHEWS and BRIAN MAHONEY Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Public schools in New York City’s 1.1 million-student district will be shuttered for the rest of the academic year, but online education will continue as the city struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Saturday.
It was not an easy decision to close schools, de Blasio said, “but it is the right decision and it’s also a decision made a little clearer by the fact that the distance learning is working more and more every day.”
The goal is to reopen school sites by September, and high school graduates may be denied a commencement ceremony, de Blasio said.
School buildings in New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, have been closed since March 16. A massive effort to move instruction online has met mixed success in the city, where many low-income students lack Wi-Fi and devices for connecting to their virtual classrooms.
Tens of thousands of tablets and laptops have been loaned to students who needed them, de Blasio said, and the remaining students who lack devices for online learning will get them by the end of April.
He praised teachers for what he said was a heroic effort to teach their students online, which will now continue through late June, when the school year ends in New York.
“Our educators were asked to learn an entirely different way of teaching,” de Blasio said. “And they weren’t given a year to get ready. They weren’t given a month to get ready. They had a week to quickly retool and turn to distance learning, online learning and make it work.”
De Blasio had resisted closing schools as the city recorded its first deaths from the coronavirus, saying he feared that health care workers would have to stay home to care for children and that hundreds of thousands of poor students would go hungry without free school meals.
Since then, the city has set up food distribution sites for needy New Yorkers, as well as so-called regional enrichment centers where essential front-line workers can drop their children off.
Attendance has been “a work in progress” since the school buildings closed, de Blasio said.
“It’s a very challenging dynamic when you’re dealing with distance, but that is also being worked on,” he said.
City education officials will work toward a goal of reopening school sites in September while helping this year’s high school seniors graduate, even if they never have commencement ceremonies, de Blasio said.
“We do not want to see these seniors robbed of their future, robbed of that joyous moment when they graduate high school,” de Blasio said. “We have no idea at this point if there’s going to be anything like a graduation ceremony this year, but we do know that so many of our seniors can graduate on time if we support them properly.”
Authorities in some other locales, including the states of Virginia and Pennsylvania, have previously announced that schools will be shuttered for the rest of the year.