As national fears swell over the coronavirus outbreak, more than a dozen governors called for school closures on Sunday.
Now, more than 30 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have closed schools for at least two or three weeks. Some officials have predicted even longer shutdowns that could stretch through the end of the school year.
“This may not peak until the latter part of April or May, so we’ve informed the superintentendents while we’ve closed schools for three weeks, the odds are that this is going to go on a lot longer, and it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, on CNN’s State of the Union.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered public schools in New York City to close until April 20, despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s concerns over the impact of an extended closure.
California continued to be a major holdout on Sunday, with Gov. Gavin Newsom ordering bars and nightclubs to close and elderly residents and those with chronic health problems to isolate at home. But he did not call for a statewide shutdown of schools, noting that rural districts especially would not be able to provide meals and other critical services to students.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance on Friday saying that in areas with “substantial community spread” of the coronavirus, closures need to last a minimum of four to eight weeks to serve as a “larger community mitigation strategy.”
De Blasio, a Democrat, said on State of the Union that he had delayed shutting down schools for many reasons, including because “that’s where a lot of kids get their only good meals, where they get adult supervision, especially teenagers, who otherwise would be out on the streets.” In addition, he said, many transit and health-care professionals rely on schools for child care.
“My blunt fear is that if the schools shut down, they will be done for the year—done for the school year, maybe even the calendar year,” de Blasio said.
Later in the day, however, Cuomo announced that the city’s schools would close, with child care in place for essential workers and food programs. He gave city officials 24 hours to come up with a plan for those services.
Parents and teachers had urged the city to close down schools in order to help stop the spread of disease. The city’s teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, had called on de Blasio to shut down schools, and on Saturday, asked parents to appeal to the mayor, too.
“The mayor is recklessly putting the health of our students, their families, and school staff in jeopardy by refusing to close public schools,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote in a letter to parents. “We have a small window of time to contain the coronavirus before it penetrates into our communities and overwhelms our health-care system’s capacity to safely care for all the New Yorkers who may become gravely ill.”
Some teachers were considering staging a sickout protest, the New York Post reported. And many parents were also keeping their students home from school: Student attendance was down to 68 percent on Friday, compared to 89 percent on Monday. The city’s school system serves more than 1.1 million students.
Superintendents who have closed schools are now scrambling to find ways to make sure every student has enough to eat, among other logistical concerns.
“If we got to that point [of closing schools], we would improvise anything and everything, but it would not by any means be as good by definition as what we do everyday when we have a functioning school system,” de Blasio said.
Education Week is tracking school closures related to coronavirus with downloadable data. See our full coverage of the coronavirus and its impact on schools.
Image: A cafeteria seen through a window sits vacant at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, R.I., which was closed after two people who returned from a school trip to Europe tested positive for the new coronavirus disease, health officials said. —AP Photo/David Goldman