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New York City public schools to close again as coronavirus cases rise

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/18/2020 Martin Pengelly in New York
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Photograph: John Minchillo/AP © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

The public schools in New York City will close again on Thursday, officials announced, after the city reached a 3% Covid test positivity rate.

Related: Covid-19 is rising again in New York. Can the city prevent another surge?

The New York Times first reported the closure plan, citing an email from Richard Carranza, chancellor of the largest public-sector schools system in the US, to school principals.

In a tweet, Carranza said: “Health and safety have always been our first priority for students, staff and families. To protect our school communities and our city, beginning tomorrow, all schools buildings will be closed, and all learning will proceed remotely, until further notice.”

Stoking anger among parents hard-pressed to balance working from home with the demands of schooling and childcare, gyms will remain open in the city, as will indoor dining at restaurants, although both at reduced capacity.

Around 300,000 of 1.1 million pupils in the New York City public schools system have been attending some form of in-person learning since Mayor Bill de Blasio began reopening schools in September, following months of remote learning as the pandemic hit and then the city became the world’s worst coronavirus hotspot in the early spring.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Students arrive for in-person classes outside Public School 188 in New York on 29 September. © Photograph: John Minchillo/AP Students arrive for in-person classes outside Public School 188 in New York on 29 September.

The in-school positivity rate in New York City is currently below 0.2%.

On Twitter on Wednesday, De Blasio cited “an abundance of caution” and said: “We must fight back the second wave of Covid-19.”

The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, who has a history of clashing with fellow Democrat De Blasio, had suggested schools could be kept open through an expanded testing regime.

But on Wednesday, shortly before the announcement that schools would close, Cuomo suggested New York City could soon be forced into a two-week school shutdown under state rules.

Since the height of the coronavirus pandemic in New York in the spring, the state managed to contain the virus but positive tests have been increasing again in recent weeks.

Speaking to the Guardian last week, Ngozi Ebinum, a mother in the Bronx who has three children in public schools, said “hybrid” instruction was already difficult.

“I want them to go to school,” she said, “because this in-house is not working at all. It’s kind of a mess and crazy. They need to do something. It’s difficult for us to connect [to the internet for virtual classes]…It’s not working for us.”

She added: “Please don’t close the schools. Whatever they’re doing [during] the pandemic, they should figure it out, because we’re suffering here.”

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