Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday schools statewide will remain closed through the end of the school year because of the Covid-19 pandemic that has infected more than 310,000 people in New York and killed 24,000.
The decision affects 2.59 million students in 700 public school districts, as well as students in 1,800 private schools, and to 189 public and private colleges as well.
"We must protect our students," Cuomo said.
His announcement ended more than six weeks of speculation about the future of the school year.
The governor ordered all schools in the state closed March 18, although school superintendents in Erie County had closed their schools March 16. Since then, teachers have been trying to educate students through a wide variety of online and distance-learning efforts, with students working on lessons at home.
"Teachers did a phenomenal job stepping up to do this," Cuomo said.
The governor had previously extended the closing several times, most recently to May 15.
"Given the circumstances that we’re in, the precautions that would have to be put in place to come up with a plan to reopen schools with all those new protocols – how you would operate a school that’s socially distanced, with masks, without gatherings, with public transportation system that has a lower number of students on it?" Cuomo asked.
"How would you get that plan up and running? We don’t think that’s possible to do that in a way that would keep our children, our students and educators safe. So we’re going to have the schools remained closed for the rest of the year. "
Cuomo said keeping schools closed through June does not prevent the state from allowing some businesses to reopen in some regions of the state. He said he would announce by May 15 if he will extend the statewide PAUSE order that closed businesses and restricted public gatherings.
Cuomo said a decision on summer school programming will be announced by the end of May.
As for the next school year beginning in September, Cuomo said there has been no decision.
"The fall is a long, long time away," he said.
Cuomo said last week he would not open a school unless it had a protocol to disinfect the schools and a protocol on social distancing and "protective personal behavior" in schools.
He also said last week it would be possible to open schools in one region of the state and not another, and that the opening of businesses and schools is connected.
But Friday, Cuomo said that no schools could open before the next school year because it is unrealistic to expect administrators to develop within a few weeks a plan for reopening and having students remain at a safe distance from each other.
"It's one thing to say you can figure out how to social distance in construction or at a manufacturing facility with adults," the governor said, explaining why the state may permit some businesses to reopen in parts of the state but not allow schools to do that.
"You have 30 kids to a classroom. ... You have 200 kids in a cafeteria," he said.
So did a first-grade teacher in Buffalo.
When he closed schools statewide, the governor waived the requirement of schools being in session 180 days in order to receive state aid.
School superintendents were waiting for the governor's word Friday not only so they could plan for the reopening, but also so they they could gauge the effect on their budgets.
Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash has said if schools remain closed the rest of the school year, the district could save “$30 to $40 million” to be rolled over for next year.
After schools closed, the state suspended the third grade through eighth grade state assessments for this year, and it later canceled the June Regents exams, telling students that as long as they passed their Regents courses this year they would be exempt from the exams and still earn credit. The state Education Department on Thursday announced the cancellation of the Regents exams for August.
While students and teachers wondered if they would ever get back in the classroom this year, school boards were wondering when and how they would vote on school district budgets and elect new members to the board.
The governor postponed the May 19 school elections in the nearly 700 school districts in the state to at least June 1, but he had not set a new date.
School board candidates could not go door to door to get signatures on petitions. And they did not know when to hand them in, because no one knew when the election would be, or whether it would be in person or by mail-in ballots.
But there was speculation that all school budgets that are approved by school boards would become the 2020-21 budget without the previously required approval of the community. School budgets are to be in place when the new fiscal year starts July 1.
As for the selection of school board members, the election could be canceled, and all current school board members would serve an extra year, some had suggested.