NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City schools will be closed for at least the next four-plus weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday evening.
De Blasio said at a media briefing there would be no school until April 20, and perhaps for the rest of the academic year.
There are currently 329 cases, including five deaths, due to the virus in New York City, the mayor confirmed.
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De Blasio said trying to keep the schools open any longer had become a futile effort.
"I believe the facts, unfortunately, have given us no other choice," de Blasio said. "But there are three things that we are trying to protect. Most importantly our public health system, our hospital system, our clinics, everywhere that people go for health care, and two things that feed that system are public transit system, and, of course, our schools.
"Now that we will not have our normal school schedule, kids in our normal school buildings, we are going to come up with a number of alternatives to try to, as much as possible, provide our kids with an education remotely and to provide a physical location for the children of those crucial public workers -- those health care workers, transit workers, first responders. Those locations will be in various places around the five boroughs. We hope between the remote learning and the specialized sites for the children of essential workers that we can keep enough going to support our health care system, but it will not be easy," de Blasio added.
De Blasio said remote learning will begin on Monday, March 23. The Department of Education has been working on a system for the last few weeks.
"It has never been attempted by the city of New York on this scale, to say the least," de Blasio said. "But they have been working on a wartime footing to prepare it. It will be up and running for children in grades K-12 on Monday, March 23, in a week. It is a system that will improve with each week. And it will certainly take time to make it as strong as it could be and needs to be."
The mayor went on to say teachers will begin to get trained on teaching remotely over the next few days. The United Federation of Teachers said in a release, in part, "School staff will all stay home on Monday. At this moment, the staff will then report to work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to prepare instructional plans for remote learning for their students during this interval."
"Again, this is going to be a kind of battlefield training. These are not ideal conditions. We'll have to teach these teachers quickly," de Blasio said. "This is a point where I can say to all our educators: We need you. We need you. These children need you. These families need you. For so many of our educators it will be an opportunity to take the tools of your profession and use them in a new way, to reach a lot of kids who are going to be dealing with really, really tough circumstances."
To reiterate, the New York City Public Schools schedule for this week is as follows:
Monday, March 16: Citywide closure. Students, teachers, and principals do not report.
Tuesday, March 17-Thursday, March 19: Teachers and principals participate in professional development on remote learning.
Thursday, March 19-Friday, March 20: Students who need it will be able to begin process of picking up the technology necessary for remote learning. Additional guidance for families will be sent this week.
Monday, March 23: Remote learning launches, with additional guidance provided throughout the week of the 23rd.
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New York City is required to have a plan in place for child care and food within the next 24 hours, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
"We will close these schools but it needs to be done with these contingencies in mind so that children are not harmed and our hospitals aren't understaffed -- otherwise we cut off our nose to spite our face," Cuomo said.
De Blasio addressed that topic as well.
"Over the next five days, our school locations will be open for one function specifically related to kids, which will be grab-and-go meals on a transitional basis, only for the coming week," de Blasio said. "We are 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 in the days and weeks going forward."
City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said closing the schools "is a sobering day for all of us."
Carranza said teachers, in addition to their training, will be able to upload resources critical to remote learning.
"We feel confident that students will be able to continue to engage academically," Carranza said. "It belies any logic to say it will be the same thing as a student in a classroom with a teacher, but I have tremendous, tremendous faith in the teachers of New York City, in the administrators of New York City. And I know that if there is any school system that can launch into remote learning on a moment's notice, like we're about to do, it's the New York City Department of Education."
Carranza said more details on what to expect during remote learning will be made available to all students and parents as this upcoming week progresses.
Sources tell CBS2 Cuomo worked through the weekend with health and education union officials and the head of the Greater New York Hospital Association to come up with a plan where they could feel comfortable and still have child care so that they could go to work.
Cuomo's decision to close schools in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk apparently boxed de Blasio in, sources say, prompting the mayor to ultimately close schools.
Cuomo met with Ken Raske of the Greater NY Hospital Association, George Gresham, head of local 1199, the health care workers union, and Michael Mulgrew, the head of the United Federation of Teachers.
Raske put out a statement pointing out that many of the healthcare workers on the front lines of fight against COVID-19 had children in the school system.
"With all New Yorkers depending on them, they need to know that closing down schools won't hinder their ability to do their essential work at the very time they're needed the most," Raske said.
Raske praised Cuomo for bringing all the sides together to facilitate a plan to provide child care while their parents get to work.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer said closing schools is absolutely the right decision.
"As a dad with two children in public schools and as the son of older parents, I thank Gov. Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, UFT President Mulgrew and 1199 SEIU President Gresham for doing the right thing and prioritizing the health and safety of all New Yorkers during this difficult time," Stringer said.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson agreed.
Long Island schools and Westchester County schools will be closed Monday.
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