New York City's public schools will remain closed to in-person classes for the rest of the school year. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the extended closure Saturday, telling a news conference that the decision to keep school buildings shuttered, though difficult, had nevertheless become clear in recent days.
"Having to tell you that we cannot bring our schools back for the remainder of this school year is painful. I can also tell you it's the right thing to do," he told reporters.
"It clearly will help us save lives, because it will help us to guarantee that the strategies that have been working — the shelter-in-place, the social distancing, all the focused strategies that are finally beginning to bear fruit — they need the time to continue to be effective."
The largest school district in the U.S., with roughly 1,800 schools and some 1.1 million students, closed its physical buildings and transitioned to remote learning last month. But when they announced the change, officials remained hopeful that schools would be able to reopen on April 20 — partly because so many of the district's students depend on the schools for basic resources.
"Almost 80% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, so it's a poor student population," New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza told NPR two weeks ago. "Obviously, the digital divide — which is, students that have technology at home and those that don't — is a huge challenge. We estimate that of the 1.1 million students, about 300,000 students don't have the devices to learn remotely at home."
By Saturday it had become clear that the April 20 deadline would not be feasible; now, officials intend to continue remote learning for the rest of the school year and reopen schools come September instead.
School officials have sought to bridge the digital divide Carranza referenced by delivering tens of thousands of devices to students based in homeless shelters throughout the city. And De Blasio said Saturday that they're aiming to "get 240,000 more in the hands of our kids over the next couple of weeks, by the end of April."
The New York City Department of Education also noted that it will continue to operate "meal hubs" out of hundreds of schools across the city, "which serve three free meals a day to any New Yorker who needs them, and we will continue to ensure child care for the children of essential workers."
"This is a painful but necessary decision," the department said in a statement announcing the move Saturday. "Public health experts have determined that community transmission of COVID-19 will be widespread well into the end of the school year. Even at low-level transmission, we'd have new cases, which would be extremely difficult to contain school-to-school."
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