New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that he is delaying reopening the nation’s biggest public school system to in-person learning for two weeks after the city’s powerful teachers union complained about inadequate COVID-19 safeguards and threatened to strike.
“What would have happened on Sept. 10 now happens on Sept. 21,” De Blasio said at a news conference.
From Sept. 10 to Sept. 15, teachers and school staff will prepare classrooms so students can learn in safety, de Blasio said. Then from Sept. 16 to Sept. 18, classes will begin online during what de Blasio called a “transitional period.”
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, was with De Blasio when the mayor announced the change.
“I can say to you now … New York City’s public school system has the … greatest safeguards of any school system in the United States of America,” he said.
The battle over how best to reopen schools during a pandemic was being fought in districts across the country, often pitting teachers against President Donald Trump’s administration, which has been pushing hard to get pupils back into classrooms even in states that continue to see large numbers of new COVID-19 cases.
Among other things, de Blasio promised teachers monthly coronavirus testing for students and staff, although it was not immediately clear how many people at each school would be tested at a time.
Had the UFT walked off the job, they would have been in violation of the so-called Taylor Law, which allows for fining and jailing teachers for striking.
But in a sign of how concerned teachers were about safety, Mulgrew last month was quick to draw a line in the sand after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the green light to send kids back to schools.
“The minute we feel the mayor is trying to force people into a situation that is unsafe, we go to court,” Mulgrew said. “We go to job actions.”
Back in March, when the pandemic was raging in New York City, de Blasio was slow to shut down city schools, even as the Chicago and Los Angeles public schools were switching to online education, enraging both teachers and some parents.
Since then, New York has been able to flatten the curve although new cases continue to pop up and public health officials have reported alarming spikes in school districts and universities across the U.S. that have already reopened.
While President Trump has repeatedly praised his administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. on Tuesday continued to lead the world in the number of reported cases with more than 6 million and nearly 185,000 deaths, according to the latest NBC News figures.