Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that all schools in New York will be closed until the end of the school year, and he raised questions about summer school, and even whether schools will reopen in the fall.
The extended closures effects 4.2 million students in public and private schools and universities across the state.
“We’re going to have the schools remain closed for the rest of the year,” Cuomo said. “Were going to continue the distance learning programs.”
Free meal programs will also continue.
Cuomo says he will decide by the end of May whether to hold summer school. He says when schools do reopen, they will have to reconfigure in order to provide safe social distancing for teachers and students. He says those plans will take more than a couple of weeks to complete, and be complicated to design and difficult to implement and for children to fully understand.
“How do you tell a 10-year-old to socially distance?” said, Cuomo. “Kids are going to be kids.”
He says reopening is dependent on the virus receding to significantly lower levels than the present rate of infection. He says even the September start of the 2020-21 school year is in question.
Response from the education community was largely positive. The New York State School Boards Association says they “commend” the decision, and that schools are not yet ready to reopen safely for classrooms learning.
The teachers union, New York State United Teachers, also agrees with the continued closures. They say the “health and safety of students and educators must be the primary concern." The union also wants any summer school programs, if they do occur, to be voluntary.
The state Board of Regents Chancellor, Betty Rosa and the Interim Education Commissioner, Shannon Tahoe, in a statement, say they’ve appointed a task force to work with the state Health Department to plan a safe reopening of schools.
While the governor spoke, the sound of car horns and shouting could be heard outside, as a few hundred protesters, tired of the school and businesses closures, held a demonstration. They say they are being hurt economically because of their inability to work.
Cuomo shrugged off the potential impact of the demonstrators, saying during a normal spring in Albany, many more protesters visit the Capitol daily to make their voices heard.
“You think these are protesters,” Cuomo said. “There’s several dozen. You come when we’re doing a controversial bill, we have hundreds of protesters filling the entire building.”
Cuomo says the shutdown orders have saved countless lives, and points out that New York’s death rate and hospitalization rates are far below earlier predictions, before government contemplated mass closures.
“I get the arguments,” Cuomo said. “This is not political decision. Let’s make the decision on the facts.”
Tenant groups who are organizing a rent strike also demonstrated outside the governor’s mansion, and held a news conference on Zoom.
Tiffany King rents a home in Brooklyn, and is out of work, with small children to support. She says her landlords are slow to fix appliances, and many in her building have mold in their apartments.
“I’m out of work,” King said. “And the little savings I did have, I’m going into it. And I’m worried I’m going to be put out on the streets, me and my children.”
The group wants Cuomo to sign an executive order to cancel rent payments for four months. Cuomo says he does not favor that plan, he says landlords also need income to keep up the buildings and pay the heating and electric bills.
“The building owners...say ‘if nobody pays rent, I’m going to walk away from my building and then it’s going to be vacant,'” said Cuomo. "Then you're going to have collapse of buildings."
He says the state has already outlawed evictions for nonpayment of rent through June.