New York City schools will shut down on Thursday, shifting all students in the country’s largest school district to fully remote learning, as coronavirus cases rise in the city and across the country.
New York City reached a coronavirus test positivity rate of 3% over a seven-day rolling average on Wednesday, which is the threshold Mayor Bill de Blasio had set for school closures, amid concerns from teachers and parents that reopening would not be safe.
“Unfortunately, this means public school buildings will be closed as of tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 19, out [of] an abundance of caution,” de Blasio said in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon. “We must fight back the second wave of COVID-19.”
The decision, which affects more than 1 million students, is grim evidence of the pandemic’s relentless rampage across the country and back into areas that for months had kept infection rates relatively low. New York City first closed schools in mid-March as it was becoming the global epicenter of the pandemic. In October, it heralded the reopening of classrooms after the city’s infection rate had remained under control for months.
But with surrounding states’ positivity rates climbing and some neighborhoods in New York City beginning to spike upward amid a relaxation of restrictions and complacency over mask-wearing and social-distancing, fears quickly grew that schools would again have to close.
New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said all learning would proceed remotely, “until further notice.”
“The Mayor & I have been clear-eyed since the beginning that we needed to get students back into classrooms as soon as it was safe,” he said in a tweet. “And we carry that same urgency with us today as we announce this temporary closure: we will get students back in buildings as soon as we can, safely.”
About 300,000 New York City students had been attending some school in-person for just under two months. But the majority of the school system’s 1.1 million students had opted for entirely remote learning from the beginning, with parents citing concerns about the virus. Many of the country’s largest school districts have been remote-only since the school year started, and rising coronavirus cases have recently forced several school districts to delay plans to bring students back into classrooms.
But as the pandemic stretches on, some experts and advocates have argued that schools should be more of a priority in reopening efforts, as concerns grow that the most vulnerable students are falling further behind due to months of remote learning. In New York City, officials said Wednesday that about 60,000 students still don’t have the devices necessary to learn remotely.
“Now we can see that remote learning has been an abject failure for many of the students and families who rely on a public education most: students with disabilities, English-language learners, students of color, the youngest students, students who are homeless, and students from low-income communities,” the New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director, Donna Lieberman, said in a statement on Monday about the likelihood of school closures.
“New York City cannot abandon children and families to the failures and inequities that have already been so devastating. Our children cannot afford to lose a year of education and growth.”
Some parents have voiced frustration that restaurants and gyms remain open in some places, including New York City, while schools are closed.
“It’s unconscionable that we have bars open in some cities when schools remain closed,” Joseph Allen, associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who has published guidelines on school reopening, told TIME last week.
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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com.