New York City is closing its schools to slow the spread of the coronavirus, effective Monday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a press conference Sunday evening.
At least 25.8 million students around the country have already been affected by school closures, according to data compiled by Education Week. Of those, fewer than 100,000 students have returned to class as some schools have reopened following cleaning measures. New York City, the largest school district in the US, adds another 1.1 million students to that tally. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest district in the nation, is also set to close on Monday.
De Blasio had been facing mounting pressure from parents, doctors, officials, and teachers unions to close the schools. The decision came after dozens of other states did so. Days before, he had said he would "fight tooth and nail" to keep schools open.
But on Sunday, de Blasio said it was "time to take more dramatic measures."
"For everyone who is wondering why this has been such a difficult decision, it's because I know the full cost of shutting our schools," he said.
While closing schools is likely to be a major step in slowing the spread of COVID-19 among students, staff members, and those around them, it also presents a number of issues.
One in ten students at New York City public schools have experienced homelessness in the past year; many of those children and others rely on their schools to provide meals.
"For many children, the breakfast and the lunch are the two main meals they get, and they get that at the school," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference earlier on Sunday.
And there's also the issue of what parents will do with their children if they still need to go to work.
De Blasio said students would still be permitted to come into school facilities only to pick up meals.
For children of "essential workers" — which include first responders, health care workers, and transit workers — childcare sites will be set up, de Blasio said.
Remote education will begin for all students on March 23, and the city will work with Apple to “supply technology for every child that needs it," he said.
Schools will be closed until at least April 20, but de Blasio said it is possible they will not reopen until the academic year begins in the fall.
De Blasio said making the decision to close the schools is "very painful," but that he was “convinced over the course of the day there was no other choice.”
"I have no words for how horrible it is, but it has become necessary," he said.