By Reema Amin, Originally published in Chalkbeat New York
The decision of when and how to reopen New York City school buildings won’t be made until at least July, and Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t have the final say — that will ultimately fall to Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
The governor is requiring districts across New York to submit detailed plans to the state by July on how they would safely reopen schools in September, Cuomo said during his daily briefing. Such plans would describe, for example, how districts will “reduce density” in classrooms, school buses, and cafeterias.
The state will review, then approve or reject the plans in July about the fall — but that comes with a caveat. Even if a district’s plans are approved, that doesn’t necessarily mean buildings will be allowed to reopen, Cuomo said. “It’s still too early to make that determination.”
“We’ll make a decision on the fall reopening in a timely way,” Cuomo said, though it’s not known when exactly that decision will be made.
Some factors that could affect the decision include a coronavirus-related syndrome, which has sickened nearly 160 children across the state and nearly 90 in the city, as well as the prospects for a coronavirus treatment or vaccine, Cuomo said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’s considering those same public health factors, plus the availability of widespread testing, as his administration and a panel of advisors, decide how and whether to reopen school buildings in September.
It’s premature to know exactly how schools will reopen, de Blasio has also said. The city is planning for various scenarios, including staggered schedules, a mix of virtual and in-person instruction, or sticking with online learning if big public health concerns remain.
“If we can [reopen], we will, if we can’t, we can do all sorts of things,”de Blasio said during a press conference on Wednesday. “But I sure have not met an educator who’s telling me that online is achieving the same thing as kids in classrooms. So, we’ll balance it, but it’ll always be about safety first.”
The mayor and the governor have clashed over decisions related to New York City schools, including the April announcement over keeping schools closed for the duration of this academic year. Shortly after de Blasio declared that school buildings would remain closed, Cuomo stepped in and said he had the final say.
De Blasio has not mentioned the state’s role or acknowledged Cuomo’s assertion that he alone will decide on reopening school buildings in the state’s roughly 700 districts.
Districts should be creating contingency plans on how they’ll reopen in the fall, but they can only unlock buildings after the state decides whether it’s safe to do so, Cuomo said.
“You’re gonna have 700 different opinions, but you have one decision-maker,” Cuomo said.
City Hall spokesperson Jane Meyer said the city and state “are aligned” on plans going forward.
“Children will not return to school buildings until it is safe to do so,” Meyer wrote in a statement. “Students will not return to buildings this summer, and we have already begun planning for multiple scenarios of what September may look like. We will continue to adjust our approach and work with the state as this situation evolves.”
Asked during his daily press briefing why the city and the state appeared to be out of sync on their messaging about reopening schools, Cuomo disagreed that they were “on a different page.” The state has been “in lockstep” with New York City, and has been on the phone with city officials “17 times a day,” top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa added.
The state will send guidance to districts in early June on what their July plans should address, Cuomo said.
Schools are in the fourth and final tier of buildings allowed to open back up in regions of New York. Parts of the state, not including New York City, have slowly begun the first phase of reopenings.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.