Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that all schools in New York state will be closed until the end of the academic year, while raising questions about summer school and even whether schools will reopen in the fall.
The extended closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic affect 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 during his daily briefing. "We're going to continue the distance learning programs."
Free meal programs will also continue.
Cuomo said he will decide by the end of May whether to hold summer school. He said when schools do reopen, they will have to reconfigure in order to provide safe social distancing for teachers and students.
He said those plans will take more than a couple of weeks to complete, and they will 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?" Cuomo asked. "Kids are going to be kids."
He said reopening is dependent on the virus receding to significantly lower levels than the current rate of infection. He said 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 said they “commend” the decision and that schools are not yet ready to reopen safely for classroom learning.
The statewide teachers union, New York State United Teachers, also agrees with the continued closures. They said 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.
State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and interim Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe said in a statement that 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 business 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 said the shutdown orders have saved countless lives and pointed out that New York's death and hospitalization rates are far below earlier predictions before the government contemplated mass closures.
“I get the arguments,” Cuomo said. “This is not a 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. She's out of work and has small children to support. She said 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 said he does not favor that plan because 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,’” Cuomo said.
He said the state has already outlawed evictions for nonpayment of rent through June.