Hours After De Blasio's Announcement, Cuomo Says It's His Decision To Coordinate With Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester Counties

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York students, parents and teachers are receiving some conflicting information regarding whether or not they’ll be returning to classrooms before the end of the school year.

Saying “the risks did not outweigh the reward,” Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Saturday that New York City public schools will now be closed through to the end of the 2019-2020 academic year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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However, a couple of hours later Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his daily briefing that decision has not yet been made, calling de Blasio’s announcement just an “opinion.”

“You can’t make a decision just within New York City, without coordinating that decision with the whole metropolitan region, because it all works together,” said Cuomo, citing planning with school districts in Nassau, Westchester and Suffolk counties as well.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran weighed in Saturday on the timing of the schools’ classes.

“I know the hot topic today, people are asking about reopening schools,” she said. “When do we get the economy moving again? When do we get schools open again? Well guess what: Schools are part of getting the economy moving again. It has to be done in a methodical manner, it has to be based on the data.”

Curran later released a statement saying, in part, “I support Governor Cuomo’s regional approach to the re-opening of schools and businesses. We are not an island unto ourselves.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is also in agreement.

“Similar to other issues that we deal with on Long Island, school closures should be addressed on a regional basis. I agree with the Governor’s prudent approach on this issue so that we can solicit input from local stakeholders and school districts across Suffolk County. If this pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that we are One New York and all in this together,” he said in a statement.

“I want to coordinate all those opinions and reopen them at the same time, I’d also like to ideally coordinate that with Connecticut and New Jersey,” the governor said. “So whatever we do, we do all at the same time.”

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While Cuomo, Curran and Bellone pushed for a regional decision, de Blasio’s camp seemed resolute on keeping New York City’s students out of class.

“The Governor’s reaction to us keeping schools closed is reminiscent of how he reacted when the Mayor called for a shelter in place,” posted de Blasio’s press secretary Freddi Goldstein. “We were right then and we’re right now. Schools will remain closed, just like how we eventually — days later — moved to a shelter in place model.”

A few hours later, the mayor was on MSNBC saying he won’t back down.

“I run the school system, under mayoral control, education, with the chancellor … and we’re saying this is the right direction to go and this is what we’re going to do,” de Blasio said.

Earlier, de Blasio had said his decision on schools was driven by public safety concerns.

“I reminded everyone, the worst mistake we could make is to take our foot off the gas and end up in a situation where this disease had a resurgence and threatened us even more,” said de Blasio. “Having to tell you that we cannot bring our schools back for the remainder of this school year is painful, but I can also tell you it’s the right thing to do. It clearly will help us save lives.”

De Blasio said he and School Chancellor Richard Carranza spoke to Dr. Anthony Fauci about scenarios to reopen the schools before the end of the school year but “increasingly we were thinking it did not make sense.”

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To help parents with the remainder of the school year, de Blasio outlined a five-point plan:

1.) Making sure iPads and all the other devices get to every student who needs one.
2.) Expand help and hotlines for parents to reach more educators and coaching support, 24-hours a day in multiple languages.
3.) Create more creative at-home programming online, including new partnerships with media companies.
4.) Help 75,000 seniors remain on track for graduation.
5.) Create a comprehensive plan to reopen the schools in September, along with mental health support for both students and parents.

“Next school year is going to have to be the greatest academic year in New York City public schools I’ve ever had because we’re going to be playing a lot of catch up,” said de Blasio. “We’re going to be looking for every conceivable way to make it the richest, most powerful year we’ve ever had to really help our kids move forward.”

Since teaching during the extended closure is heavily based on learning online, Carranza stressed parents need to complete a digital needs survey to get their children needed gear. Parents can go to www.schools.nyc.gov/learn-at-home/ipad-distribution for more information, or call 718-935-5100 and press the number 5.

Carranza noted the city has already given out 245,000 devices to students, including 70,000 WiFi-enabled iPads just in the past week.

“If that was a school system, that would be the sixth or seventh largest school system in America,” said Carranza. “Our goal is by the end of April, every one of those students that have identified themselves or families that have identified themselves as needing a device based on the survey will have a device in their hands as well.”

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The city will continue to run more than 400 school-based Meal Hubs, serving three free meals a day to any child or adult that wants one, and also continue offering child care for the children of essential workers.

The fate of summer school and programs was left unclear as de Blasio and Carranza said their focus would be on reopening schools in September.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Seeing Cuomo and de Blasio at odds sparked immediate blowback.

Staten Island parent Elena Romano, whose 17-year-old daughter, Kelly, is a senior at Tottenville High School, calls this bad leadership.

“I wish the mayor and the governor were on the same page. This is an emotional roller coaster for everyone,” Elena Romano said.

“It just feels like a big heartbreak,” Kelly Romano said.

Some teachers and representatives say getting mixed messages from politicians is unfortunate, but right now, they’re dealing with the day-to-day and week-to-week stresses of remote learning, so they can’t focus on that.

Lynette Guastaferro is the CEO of Teaching Matters is a nonprofit group that supports teachers with free online lesson plans.

She says teachers need support right now.

“Whether the mayor and the governor are messaging the exact same date around school closing or reopening, teachers know right now they have to be prepared,” Guastaferro told CBS2’s Dave Carlin.

Cuomo insists that a call on schools should not be made until a decision is made about people going back to work, since many parents would have a child care problem.

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For many frustrated, stressed-out students, parents and teachers, their message to all is just get it together.