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No public school closures yet, but de Blasio announces measures to protect NYC students

Two schools were closed this morning in the Bronx, the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology and South Bronx Prep; a College Board School due to a student self confirmed with Coronavirus. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Shortly after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed New Yorkers with updates on how he would guide the city through what he described as a crisis similar to war.

Here are the central takeaways from Friday’s press conference on the virus in the city: 

No plans to close schools, yet

The mayor made it clear that there are no plans to close city public schools despite mounting pressure from parents and educators.

On Friday, the United Federation of Teachers, a union representing New York City public school teachers, released a statement calling for de Blasio to shutter schools.

“We understand the immense disruption this will create for our families,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.” But right now more than a million students and staff crisscross the city every day on their way to schools, putting themselves and others at risk of exposure and increasing the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities.”

School attendance has also dropped this week from 89% on Monday to 86% on Thursday and a mere 68% on Friday, as parents took matters into their own hands.

But closing would be done only as a “last resort” de Blasio said. During the press conference, he held up a copy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for school closures which he said better expressed his concerns over stopping all onsite classes.

The report neatly breaks down factors to consider before closing a school into columns of pros and cons.

Some pros: Allows for decontamination and contact tracing. Some cons: Social mixing can still occur but with “less ability to monitor.” That might increase the spreading of the virus to older adults given that 40% of U.S. grandparents care for grandchildren. There is also the potential negative academic impact due to class disruption.

There are also concerns about forcing children to stay home could potentially cause essential health care workers to miss work if they are unable to find childcare.

“I understand the anxieties right now. I also understand that many kids want to keep school open,” said de Blasio. The mayor referenced a statement from the 1199SEIU — the largest healthcare workers union in the country — which urged him to “consider the plight” of the essential workers who cannot afford to take time off to watch their children.

Closing schools, however, is still not out of the question.

“I absolutely can take in the possibility of doing all sorts of additional things to schools and far beyond,” de Blasio said. “We are in the great unknown here, there is nothing off the table, to say the least.”

More social distancing measures will be executed in schools 

The Department of Education has canceled extracurricular activities like sports, assemblies, plays, and recitals indefinitely.

All travel including field trips and internships are canceled until further notice as well. SAT administration on DOE sites and exam dates will be postponed for later this month and parent-teacher conferences will be held via phone or video. 

The city is not doing away with after school programs but all have been directed to avoid large group activities and to spread children out as much as possible in the gym, cafeteria, or classrooms.

Schools have been told that if they can not adequately spread out children in the cafeteria during meal times that students can be placed in classrooms for breakfast and lunch. The city will also be cleaning schools three times a week. 

The city is calling for protective medical supplies 

At the moment, the city has 500,000 facemasks on hand and will be asking for an additional 800,000 face shields, 600,000 surgical gloves, and 95,000 extra surgical gowns. According to the mayor, the New York City Fire Department received an additional 20,000 masks on Friday. 

There is now a moratorium on evictions, for some 

The Real Estate Board of New York announced on Friday that over two dozen of its members will suspend evictions for the next three months, de Blasio mentioned during the conference. Members of REBNY can still evict tenants for criminal and negligent behavior that jeopardizes the life, health, or safety of other residents, according to a statement from the real estate trade group. The decision comes a week after the state issues a one-week moratorium on evictions in the city.

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