Just a couple of hours later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed back, claiming legal authority over the decision, saying “that’s his opinion, but he didn’t close them and he can’t open them.”
There are long running tensions between the two politicians, but they do not often surface so publicly, in back-to-back televised press conferences.
Governor Cuomo says that any decision on the matter will not be made soon.
“It’s not going to be decided in the next few days, because we don’t know,” Mr Cuomo said. “I can’t tell you what June is going to look like. I can’t tell you what May is going to look like.”
The governor says that he understands the mayor’s position, but insists that this is a bigger decision than just the city. “This is not a snow day,” said the governor, insisting it makes no sense for the city to act alone.
As with many other decisions made as part of the pandemic response, there have to be metropolitan-wide decisions that take into account neighbouring counties to New York City. Ideally, the governor wants decisions to also involve Connecticut and New Jersey as part of the broader New York City region.
The governor says that decisions regarding schools also need to consider decisions regarding reopening businesses, and childcare implications.
Freddi Goldstein, Mr de Blasio’s press secretary, responded on Twitter: “The Governor’s reaction to us keeping schools closed is reminiscent of how he reacted when the Mayor called for a shelter in place. 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,” she added.
The city had previously hoped to reopen schools on 20 April, but even as the number of new cases of the coronavirus appears to be levelling out, social distancing and stay-at-home rules remain a crucial part of the response.
Remote learning will continue throughout the rest of the school year for 1,800 schools across the city’s five boroughs. The 1.1 million children in the New York City public school system will lose a total of three months of regular schooling by the summer.
During a news conference on Saturday, Mayor de Blasio said that there was nothing easy about the decision. “Lord knows, having to tell you that we cannot bring our schools back for the remainder of the school year is painful. I can also tell you it is the right thing to do. It will clearly help us save lives.”
The switch to online teaching has been an enormous challenge for students, teachers and parents. Mr de Blasio noted that educators had just a week to adapt to an entirely new way of teaching.
Richard Carranza, the city’s schools chancellor, commented: “The mayor and I absolutely agree that this is in the best interest of all New Yorkers.”
“We know that the past few weeks have not been easy. We are going to be here to support you,” he added.
The city has unveiled a five-point plan for students and families. This comprises completing the delivery of digital devices to all students by the end of April; expanding the parent helpline and tech support hours; launching new online programs; graduating seniors; and getting ready to reopen in September.
While there have been long running tensions between the mayor and governor, Saturday’s clash is reminiscent of confrontations between local, state and federal levels of government across the US about how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Most disagreements centre on what is classified as an “essential activity” during a lockdown, the openings of beaches and other outdoor recreational facilities, and the numbers allowed to gather together for religious ceremonies.