Should NYC public schools shut down? Politicians and advocates say 'yes'

Cyril Josh Barker | 3/15/2020, 8:33 a.m.
Amid the growing outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), questions linger if New York City public schools should close to quell ...
Classroom at Mott Haven Academy Charter School Cyril Josh Barker

Amid the growing outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), questions linger if New York City public schools should close to quell the spread.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said several times that he has no plans to shut down the city's public school system, which is the nation's largest public school system serving 1.1 million students. He says such a move would have a lasting impact on education and that schools would not open back up until the fall.

The Los Angeles Unified School District and the Chicago Public Schools have decided to close along with nearby Newark Public Schools.

"When you close, you create a series of additional new problems in terms of health and safety," de Blasio said during a press conference on Saturday. "When you close, you potentially compromise the hospital system and the health care system by the impact it has on health care providers who would hold back and not go to work, stay with their families, stay with their kids."

De Blasio also mentioned that the impact on children's education would be "devastating" and that hundreds of thousands of teenagers would be without adult supervision.

"I think that's not just about health," he said. "It's about all the other impact that has on their life. It is about the impact on safety. You know, we just have to look at a whole picture. So, we're going to be doing that constantly. But I think we have a lot to balance. And I'm holding where we are right now."

Several politicians and education advocates are calling on the mayor to follow suit with other major cities and surrounding school districts to shutter New York's public schools for at least two weeks.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams calling for the closure of New York City schools, among other measures, in order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. He and Council Member Mark Treyger say that having a summer school session is a solution.

"It has become clear that in order to mitigate the dangers posed by the spread of COVID-19, strategies must shift when it comes to our educational system," Williams said. "For the safety of students, of faculty and staff, and of the most vulnerable New Yorkers who they may come in contact with, it is time to close New York City's public schools, while implementing a summer school-style model like the one proposed by my colleague in government, Council Member Mark Treyger- one that ensures critical services still reach students, that no one falls through the cracks."

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said that schools should close to allow for the formation of a task force to gather facts.

"Many teachers, councilors, and school workers have expressed their concerns amidst this pandemic," he said. "The City should work on a plan to ensure that all public school students who depend on school lunches are still able to receive them while the recess is in place."

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew also recommends that city public schools be closed. He said that sending children to school puts themselves and others at risk of exposure and increases the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities.

“We must find ways to keep our children safe and to see that they are fed. We must do all we can to help ensure that our students can continue to learn,” he said. “But we have reached the point where continuing to keep our classrooms open poses a greater lasting threat than the disruption that will result from school closings.”

Jasmine Gripper, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education, said that if public schools do close, there should be a plan to ensure that students and their families in low-income communities continue to receive essential services they get from public schools.

“Districts must be able to provide supervision for children whose parents are unable to stay home with them while schools are forced closed,” she said. “Districts need to have plans to make up for the lost instructional time that reach all students, not just those with technology at home."