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New York City To Close Schools For In-Person Learning


In another sign of the surging pandemic, New York City announced it will close schools for in-person learning as of tomorrow. For those keeping track, it's been just about two months since they opened their doors. NPR's Anya Kamenetz is in New York. She's following this story step by step.

Hey, Anya.


KELLY: Details on this announcement today.

KAMENETZ: Sure. So Mayor Bill de Blasio had kind of teased over the weekend that we might be getting very close to the threshold of closing schools. So today, the city's reporters and an untold number of parents were kind of waiting around. There was a press conference that was delayed for four hours. After 2 p.m., the school's chancellor finally sent an email to principals saying schools are going to close as of tomorrow.

KELLY: Wow. And do we - I mean, why now with so little notice - parents finding out this afternoon there's no school tomorrow?

KAMENETZ: Yeah. So when the new school year officially began in September after two delays, a lot of reversals, the mayor then said to benchmark that, when and if the city reached an average 3% positivity rate on all COVID tests across seven days, at that point, schools would automatically all close again. And we hit that benchmark just in the past few days.

Now, 3%, you know, is a pretty low number. It's the most cautious threshold recommended by the CDC in its school reopening guidance. Its far lower than other places where schools have remained open. And I should mention testing within New York City's public schools has shown very few cases.

KELLY: And I should clarify, when I say no school tomorrow, I of course mean no in-person school on campus, in the classroom.


KELLY: How does what is happening in New York compare to be - what is being done elsewhere in the country, Anya?

KAMENETZ: You know, I've been tracking this. There's different organizations tracking this. I have to say it feels at this moment like the trend is toward closure. So besides New York City, the governor of Kentucky announced today that schools were closing. Denver public schools also closed today. I think one headline is that with community spread out of control in so many places, even the cities and states that had opened all their schools up in some cases were having to close back down because contact tracing and quarantining are taking too many teachers and staff members out of commission. Essentially, they're running out of substitutes.

Another really interesting indicator from an organization called Burbio is that we're seeing urban school districts especially likely to be all-remote. So that's not only New York City. LAUSD and Chicago have been remote this whole time. Detroit just closed its doors. And more recently, so did Des Moines, Iowa; Toledo, Ohio; Oklahoma City.

KELLY: Wow. And I'm just thinking about the impact of all this on real people - on students, on their families.

KAMENETZ: Absolutely. And, you know, we should really underline that these impacts are not going to be felt equally, right? There is research that shows with these urban school districts that are more likely to be remote, that means often districts that are majority low-income students, majority Black and Latino students. And that all describes New York City. And, you know, these are the very same students who are less likely to have access to the Internet, to devices, to at-home support to be successful in remote learning. And New York City's a rich city. But Chancellor Richard Carranza, for example, announced today, after all these months since schools closed in the spring, that they're going to be sending home paper packets tomorrow with some students because they still haven't hooked everyone up.

KELLY: And just briefly, parents - where does this leave them?

KAMENETZ: You know, there's some room in the Learning Bridges child care program, which is free and open, especially to essential workers. So we're going to be looking at that and what options working parents have.

KELLY: NPR's Anya Kamenetz. Thank you, Anya.

KAMENETZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIET CIG SONG, "I DON'T KNOW HER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.