NEW YORK — In-person classes at public schools across the five boroughs will shift to fully remote starting Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced.

But will schools that are not part of the city education department also shut down? Does this announcement mean students can still get free meals?

Here’s what we know so far:

Are All Schools in the City Closing?

No, this order applies only to schools that are part of the city’s Department of Education. Catholic schools will remain open for in-person classes. In a statement in the afternoon, the Archdiocese of New York insisted schools were following the state’s health guidelines and that any closures would be made on a school-by-school basis. They have vowed to stay open even if public schools close.

Brooklyn Diocese relies on the city to supply its school nurses, transportation and some meals, and has been trying to get confirmation that it will continue to staff those services when public schools close.

Catholic schools on Staten Island have their own issues. Much of the borough was declared a “yellow zone” last week, a designation that requires mandatory testing of 20% of school populations. Without staffing to administer the tests, the Archdiocese closed schools for two days last week and blamed the city, which it says is required to provide by law.

The Archdiocese of New York, represents more than 60,000 students in the Bronx, Manhattan and on Staten Island, and the Brooklyn Diocese is home to more than 30,000 students in Brooklyn and Queens. There is a small number of independent Catholic schools. Any potential closures of those schools would be on a case-by-case basis.

Other parochial, private, and charter schools are still open, but they would close if the five boroughs get an “orange zone” designation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday said the city could soon be designated an “orange zone” if the seven-day rolling coronavirus infection rate in the city as measured by the state hits 3%, The state's seven-day average for New York City currently stands at 2.5%, although in a confusing twist the city's own metrics show the five boroughs have already hit that 3% threshold.

Cuomo said schools would also have to remain closed, but that they could reopen after four days if buildings were sanitized and students and staff were tested for the coronavirus.

“Schools can reopen in an ‘orange zone,’” said Cuomo. “If New York City hits 3%, makes it an ‘orange zone.’ And if New York City wanted to reopen the schools, we’d have to design a different formula for New York City because by volume we couldn’t test every student in New York City.”

While charter schools are public, they aren't bound by the same rules as public schools within the Department of Education. Nevertheless, at least two charter school networks, Harlem Children's Zone and Democracy Prep, are planning to close their buildings. Democracy Prep has 12 schools in its network that will switch to remote learning. Harlem Children's Zone, which says it serves more than 13,000 students, will now go remote through January 19.

Meanwhile, Success Academies, which operates some 47 schools, will continue offering remote instruction. It opted earlier this year to keep buildings closed to avoid "unpredictable disruptions" due to COVID-19.

The KIPP charter school network, whose students have learned online this school year, will remain fully remote through the end of the calendar year, a spokesperson said in a statement in the evening. The spokesperson also said KIPP’s two kindergarten sites were already scheduled to be closed through November 30 for Thanksgiving, and the charter school network intends to determine if they can reopen when students return from the break.

What If My Child Doesn’t Have a Device to Learn Remotely? 

The mayor says any parent with a child who lacks an internet-connected device should call 311.

The shift to remote learning will be particularly painful for about 60,000 students who the city says do not have the laptops, tablets, or internet access necessary to get online.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the city has ordered “a little over 100,000 devices” to meet those needs, but he said in the meantime schools should distribute to those students prepared paper packets of assignments.

Will Child Care Be Available?

Yes, the city's Learning Bridges Program provides places for children in 3-K through eighth grade to learn on days they are not in the classroom. The program was used in the spring, the last time there was a shutdown of in-person classes, to assist parents who couldn’t work from home.

The city on Thursday said it would open its free Learning Bridges child care facilities to some families who need it.

"Essential workers will have a preference for the Learning Bridges seats, and there's other folks who are prioritized — families in shelter, for example, and families that have particular challenges,” the mayor said.

Specific numbers on the number of Learning Bridges seats are not known as of this writing. Parents have previously raised concerns about their availability. In July, the mayor promised 100,000 free child care seats. In September, he walked that back to just 30,000 seats for when school began. He said 60,000 seats would not be available until October, and the 100,000 goal at year's end.

Will Free Meals Continue?

Yes, public schools will continue to provide free meals to students. Carranza said principals will work with school staff to make sure there are available windows for students to pick up meals.​

What About Students Who Use Yellow School Buses?

Non-public school students who use yellow buses will continue to get rides to and from school. There will be no change to buses that have contracts with the city, the education department said.


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This story includes reporting from Lori Chung, Jillian Jorgensen, Shannon Caturano, and Amanda Farinacci.


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