FAQ: What you should know about NYC’s plan to shutter schools

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Christina Veiga on March 15, 2020

The lives of a million New York City students and some 75,000 teachers changed dramatically Sunday evening, when the country’s largest school system announced it would be closing its doors to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus. 

The education department now faces the monumental task of shifting all of its teaching and learning online within the next week. The undertaking will require rapid training for the city’s educators, mass distribution of technology for students who lack it, and the ramp up of emergency sites for the children of workers on the front lines of the pandemic, along with other students who might be left with nowhere to go. 

There is still a lot that we don’t know about how all of this will play out — and there are weeks, if not months, of uncertainty ahead. But here’s a breakdown of what we do know as of Sunday evening. 

When will schools close?

Schools will be closed Monday through at least April 20, but that doesn’t mean teaching will stop. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade move to online classes beginning March 23. 

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said an estimated 300,000 students will need devices to make remote learning a possibility. So the city is making WiFi devices and 25,000 iPads available for students to pick up, beginning on Thursday and Friday. The education department has not yet said where these pick ups can happen and during what times, but families should receive more information this week — along with guidance about how to create accounts to access digital materials. 

Also on March 23, the city will open “several dozen” regional enrichment centers to serve the children of first responders and healthcare workers, as well as some of the “most vulnerable” students,” according to Carranza. The education department did not immediately provide details about the locations of those centers, their hours, and who can attend. “More details to follow,” said city guidance released Sunday. 

What about teachers? 

Teachers and principals are expected to report to their schools Tuesday through Thursday so they can be trained on how to move to remote learning. The scope of the task will require the sessions to mostly happen in person, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Sunday. Officials say they’ll implement “social distancing” practices during the trainings.

“We’re asking people, in three days, to teach in an entirely different manner,” he said. “To teach people, many of whom will be the first time they’ve done it, it’s just hard to do it virtually.” 

A virtual training will be offered on Friday. 

Could the schools shutdown go on for longer? 

The mayor has warned that it’s possible schools won’t reopen for months. 

“I have been honest that by closing our schools now, we may not have the opportunity to reopen them for the full school year,” de Blasio said. “I have no words for how horrible it is, but it has become necessary.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested that shorter-term closures may not be that effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19. “Much longer closures,” those lasting eight to 20 weeks, may have “some impact,” according to the Centers.

The last day of school in New York City is currently scheduled for June 26. 

Will my pre-K center remain open? 

For now, childcare centers are making their own decisions about whether to remain open. 

The education department sent a notice Sunday night saying “it is strongly recommended” that subsidized preschool and childcare programs should follow the lead of K-12 schools. Programs will be “held harmless financially during this time,” the notice said.  

But officials also gave centers the decision to continue serving families if they can do so safely.

“If you do remain operational, please implement practices to ensure safe social distancing,” the notice said, promising to provide more details about next steps. 

The mayor said people should pitch in to watch the children of their neighbors, friends, and others who work in the healthcare sector.

What about charter schools?

Some of the city’s largest networks had already decided to shift classes online. 

Success Academy, which enrolls 18,000 students, announced it would move to virtual learning starting on Thursday. Democracy Prep has implemented remote learning through April 19 at its New York schools. The network enrolls 4,200 students locally.

What about students with disabilities?

Federal guidance says remote learning has to be adapted for them, too. Students must also receive their required special education or medical services “to the greatest extent possible.” It’s possible the city will seek to serve students with the most intensive needs at its regional centers, but no plans for that have yet been revealed. 

Officials are not required to provide services if schools close entirely, but that is not what’s happening in New York City. Once schools reopen, it’s up to special education teams to determine if students with disabilities who missed services are entitled to make them up. 

Will students have access to food? 

“Grab and go” breakfasts and lunches will be available at every school for anyone under 18 years-old, “until further notice,” according to the education department.  

About 70% of New York City students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, a major reason why de Blasio had been so reluctant to close down schools. Other districts have moved to deliver food to needy families, and some advocates have called on the federal government to increase SNAP benefits to families to help make sure young people are fed. 

“We’re going to be doing a lot of work in the coming days on how to make sure food is readily available for kids at various locations around the city and in the days and weeks going forward. But we have more work to do on that front,” de Blasio said at a press conference on Sunday. 

Will state tests go on? 

The state is expected to apply for a federal waiver for schools impacted “by the extraordinary circumstances” brought on by the coronavirus, according to city education department spokesperson Miranda Barbot. 


Federal guidance released on Thursday said the U.S. Department of Education says it will consider waiving requirements for statewide tests, which are currently mandated in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

Paper-based English tests are scheduled to be administered between March 25-27 in New York. Paper-based math tests are scheduled for April 21-23.

Will high school admissions offers still come out? 

New York City’s highly competitive high school admissions season was expected to come to a close by March 20. That’s the deadline by which the education has previously said that admissions offers would be made to students applying to any of the city’s high schools.

Barbot said offers would be coming out this week “as scheduled.” Middle school offers are supposed to come out later this spring. No word yet on whether those will be affected. 

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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