New York City public schools, the nation's largest school system, won't fully reopen this fall as the city tries to keep the coronavirus epidemic under control, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
The district, which has 1.1 million students, will use a combination of in-person class and remote learning, he said. The "vast majority" of students will attend in-person class for two or three days each week, de Blasio said.
"Basically, this blended model — this kind of split schedule model — is what we can do under current conditions," de Blasio said, citing the need to maintain social distancing. "And then, let's hope and pray science helps us out with a vaccine, with a cure, treatment, the things that will allow us to go farther."
De Blasio's announcement comes as school districts across the U.S. develop plans for learning this fall, after the Covid-19 outbreak forced many to shift to online teaching in March. Although the nation continues to grapple with rising coronavirus cases, the fate the upcoming school year has come into focus for its importance to the development of students and its role in aiding the U.S. economic recovery.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has the final say on reopening the state's schools. And at a press conference in Albany shortly after de Blasio unveiled the city's approach, Cuomo stressed a final decision on fall classes hasn't been made yet, including for New York City.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said the state will issue more guidance for school reopenings Monday. Local school districts will have to submit their specific plan for holding classes to the state for review by July 31.
A decision on reopening the schools will be made in the first week of August, Cuomo said. Ultimately, he said that decision relies on how bad the Covid-19 outbreak in New York will be by then, emphasizing it was too early to tell what infection rates will be like in a few weeks.
"I understand there's a drop-dead date where you have to make a decision" so districts can plan accordingly, Cuomo said. "But wait until that date to make a decision because the facts may change."
Asked by a reporter whether New York City's plan was "credible" given the current infection rate, Cuomo said, "no."
De Blasio said during his press briefing that he would change the plan for New York City's schools if the nature of the coronavirus epidemic changed. But he stressed the need for providing staff and families alike with some clarity and time to prepare.
"The only way we're going to be in position to open schools is if we're in a ready position right now, actively doing the work," he said. "If the data tells us we have to do something differently, we will, and we'll work with the state very closely on that."
President Donald Trump has been pushing districts to fully reopen, threatening earlier Wednesday to withhold federal funding from schools that do not resume in-person classes this fall. Trump also criticized school guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calling them "very tough" and "expensive."
"We're very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open," Trump said at a White House event Tuesday afternoon. "It's very important for our country. It's very important for the well-being of the student and the parents."
Richard Carranza, New York City's schools chancellor, stressed that students will be learning five days a week. But, he said, proper social distancing cannot be maintained if every student attends in-person class each day.
"Health and safety requires us to have fewer students in the building at the same time, so for the 2020-21 school year it will look different," Carranza said. "Our city has been to hell and back. We do not want to return to that so we are going to make sure that our schools are safe for our families, our students and for our staff."
De Blasio acknowledged the challenges associated with remote learning, saying he understood it is "not perfect."
"But we've also seen a lot kids benefit greatly from it during these last months, and we know we'll be able to do it even better in the months ahead," he said.