NEW YORK -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a hybrid back-to-school plan Wednesday with most students inside their physical schools just two or three days a week, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it's up to him to decide whether schools can open at all.
De Blasio said his plan calls for most students learning online at least half the time because schools can’t accommodate all their students and maintain safe social distancing.
“When you think about social distancing, you need more space,” de Blasio said. “You’re going to have fewer kids in a classroom, fewer kids in the school building.”
De Blasio said parents will have the option of online-only instruction for their children, but he said 75% of parents who answered a survey want their children in school in September.
Cuomo, however, a Democrat like de Blasio who has clashed with the mayor repeatedly over control of the city's schools and other issues, said all school districts statewide must submit plans for reopening by July 31 and state officials will decide in the first week of August whether to accept the plans — and whether schools will reopen in the fall at all. Cuomo said he wants to see if the virus spikes in upcoming weeks, but the deadline leaves his administration just weeks to approve, deny or seek changes to re-opening plans for as many as 700 school districts.
“If it’s not safe for my child, it’s not safe for anyone’s child,” said Cuomo, who held a press conference in New York City shortly after de Blasio’s briefing. "If I wasn’t prepared to be a school teacher in that school, I wouldn’t ask anyone else to be a school teacher in that school.”
De Blasio said the city would work closely “every step of the way with the state of New York.”
New York City’s school buildings were closed in March when nonessential businesses were shuttered to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
De Blasio said online-only instruction “has been really fantastic for certain students,” but many others lacked internet access or devices to connect to their online classes.
Under one model outlined by de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, one group of students at a school would be in their classrooms on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a second group would be in class Wednesdays and Fridays and the two groups would alternate Mondays.
“This is very new and different and I know it’s no one’s first choice, but we need to do it to maintain the health and safety of our school communities,” Carranza said.
He said protocols for reopening in September will include face coverings for students and staff and nightly deep cleaning of schools.
Many questions were left unanswered, including what working parents will do on the days when their children are learning at home.
De Blasio said the question of how working parents will cope with the blended learning plan is “something we’re going to be building as we go along."
“Some parents are going to be able to make it work under current conditions. Some are going to need extra help, and we’re going to work over the coming weeks to find other ways to help them," he said.
The governors of New Jersey and Connecticut said they're on track to re-open schools this fall, while Florida's governor is requiring schools to reopen. But Cuomo said it’s not “intelligent” to make re-opening decisions now.
“If anybody sat here today and told you that they could reopen the school in September, that would be reckless and negligent of that person,” he said.
Cuomo said parents will “probably” wait until the night before school to decide whether they'll send their child.
Still, the uncertainty over what school will look like in the fall in New York and nationwide — and when parents will know what to expect — is leaving families in a “very difficult spot,” said Jon Valant, senior fellow in the Brown Center on Education Policy at The Brookings Institution.
Any plans approved in August may be quickly scrapped if the pandemic worsens, Valant said.
“Any superintendent and any state government that is being honest with parents is going to say we don’t know exactly how this is going to play out,” Valant said.
The announcement of a reopening plan for New York City's 1.1 million-student school system, by far the nation's largest, came the day after President Donald Trump said he would pressure state and local officials nationwide to open schools.
States have had more time to plan for re-opening school then they did this spring, but New York schools now have weeks left to nail down logistics of everything from putting fewer kids on school buses to having enough substitutes to social distance in small schools.
“I think we are going to see a whole lot of problems that surface in the fall just like we did in the spring,” said Valant, who called for flexible rather than one-size-fits-all plans.
Cuomo said New York may only re-open schools in some regions, depending on infection rates.
New York, once the epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States, has been reopening in stages as officials seek to keep the rate of new infections low.
Cuomo announced that malls can start to open in certain parts of the state on Friday as long as they have air filtration systems thought to help remove COVID particles from the air.
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 peaked at more than 18,000 statewide in mid-April and has plunged since then, but hospitalizations ticked up over the last two days, from around 815 Sunday to more than 840 Tuesday.
Cuomo said 11 coronavirus deaths were reported in the state Tuesday.
Cuomo said all county fairs will be canceled this summer. Earlier this week, he announced the cancellation of the annual state fair in Syracuse.
Villeneuve reported from Albany, New York.