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Coronavirus Closure: Mayor De Blasio Under Fire As New York City Public Schools Return To All-Remote Learning

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City public schools closed Thursday as a second wave of COVID-19 strikes the city, forcing students to return to remote learning.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he and the Department of Education are working on new standards to reopen schools, but parents are irritated about the decision to shut down.

Even in these topsy-turvy pandemic times, it was a startling revelation. The mayor closed schools with no Plan B for how to reopen. CBS2's Marcia Kramer put the question to him point blank.

"If you knew going into opening the schools that there was the possibility of a second wave and a possibility that you would in fact reach 3%, why was there no plan to figure out how you're going to come back once you reached that number?" Kramer asked the mayor.

"Marcia, it has just been a lot of different pieces we had to account for. Our focus was not on what to do if? Our focus was on getting our schools up and running," de Blasio said.

And for confused parents, teachers and students, there was also this alibi:

"Sometimes, it's hard to imagine the next phase until you get there," de Blasio said.

Other elected officials were furious that there was no Plan B for reopening and no plans for making sure students had the necessary tools for remote learning.

"That is not leadership. That is chaos. We're being led into chaos," Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said. "This is all the mayor's abject failure."

Added Councilman Mark Treyger, the chairman of the Education Committee: "As a teacher, I can tell you there was an expression in the school system, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

Parents argue the decision to close schools, but not businesses like spas and restaurants, doesn't make sense. De Blasio has indicated it's only a matter of time before those close, too.

Public school parents and their children rallied outside City Hall on Thursday in a call for in-person classes to resume, CBS2's John Dias reported.

"You have to be on a screen much longer and it's funner to actually see people," said 8-year-old Hannah Tenold-Nome, who doesn't want to go back to remote learning.

The school shutdown comes after a surge in coronavirus cases brought the city's weekly infection rate above 3%.

MORE: COVID In NYC: Schools Switching To All-Remote Learning Starting Thursday

"If people could eat in restaurants and people can work out in a gym, then kids should be able to go to school," said parent Robyn Sailing.

"Our most vulnerable kids need schools to be open to have a fighting chance, a fighting chance, at the American dream," another person said.

The shutdown took effect Thursday morning, impacting more than 1,700 public schools.

In order to reopen in the first place, the mayor and teachers union agreed over the summer to close schools if the infection rate reached the 3% threshold. It appears to be non-negotiable, even though the infection rate in schools remains well below 1%.

"Was put forth by the city's doctors and confirmed by the doctors we were working with, that was the appropriate number," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said Wednesday.


Thursday's rally was organized by Daniela Jampel, who hand delivered a petition signed by more than 12,000 families to City Hall. The group wants de Blasio to reconsider the 3% infection rate approach.

"It's completely outdated. We now have a much better sense of what schools look like, and the science shows us that schools are safe," said Jampel.

According to Jampel, parents never had a seat at the table when the decision was made.

"The mayor deserves a ton of credit for [opening schools]. Closing schools now is a huge step backwards. It is a huge blow to the city," she said.

On Thursday, the mayor said the city will come up with new standards in the coming days.

Watch Mayor de Blasio's Press Conference:

"We're looking at anything and everything that can contribute to making it safer in an atmosphere where the positivity levels around us are growing," de Blasio said. "We are pausing. We are resetting the equation."

The mayor faced tough questions about the shutdown Thursday on CBS This Morning.

"Because we were the epicenter of this crisis, everyone knows that. We needed to bring our schools back in the fall, and we needed to show parents and staff that they'd be safe," de Blasio said.

Some Teachers Feel Ill-Equipped For Remote Instruction

De Blasio was asked about the thousands of students still without basic tools, like iPads, for remote learning.

"We've been providing free iPads for every child in New York City," said the mayor.

"Your chancellor said yesterday that they don't have iPads for 60,000 kids," said CBS's Tony Dokoupil.

"It's really simply, really clear. Every child in New York City needs one, can get a free iPad and any child who doesn't have it now, we're gonna get it to them right away," the mayor replied.

The stated worry from many parents is that remote learning just isn't as good as in-person instruction.

Not only is the city lacking a plan for reopening schools, it's also lacking a cohesive plan for teaching remotely.

"It's quite boring. I don't learn too much," 10th grader Emma Olson told CBS2's Ali Bauman.

That's not exactly a rave review for remote learning.

"A lot of teachers know what they're doing, but I can tell they're confused sometimes," Olson said.


Laura Hanrahan is a public school teacher in SoHo and she admitted she is confused.

"I feel like I'm back at square one in the spring," Hanrahan said.

She was primarily teaching in the classroom this semester, but now she's adapting her lesson plans for virtual learning.

"The support I've received is ... it's minimal," Hanrahan said.

In a recent op-ed, the UFT's Mulgrew wrote, the Department of Education "needs to step up with an aggressive program to provide better training in both the problems and the possibilities of online instruction."

Tom Liam Lynch is education policy director at the New School's Center for New York City affairs.

"There actually hasn't been much of a clear digital learning strategy that has been put forth," Lynch said. "Unfortunately, that means that you get a lot of uneven and inequitable instruction throughout the city."

The Department of Education released this statement:

We have high standards for our teachers who will continue to work tirelessly to deliver rigorous education to our students, regardless of whether buildings are open or closed. Every school day includes dedicated time for professional development, and since the start of the school year, thousands of educators have participated in our live and pre-recorded trainings. We know the realities created by this global pandemic are hard on our educators, families and students, and we appreciate everyone's flexibility as the City works together to fight back against this virus so we can reopen schools safely.

Public schools will stay closed through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, at least. Catholic schools in New York City remain open since they operate independently.

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