Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday made the stunning admission that he closed city public schools due to rising COVID-19 infection rates without having a reopening plan in place — and took sole responsibility for the blunder.
“Honestly, I have to hold myself responsible,” de Blasio admitted during a City Hall press briefing when asked by a reporter why a schools reopening plan was not created before he ordered school buildings shuttered indefinitely for in-person learning last week.
“The better situation would have been, clearly, to have that plan all worked through in advance,” de Blasio confessed, while offering no solution to the problem.
Parents and city officials alike blasted de Blasio for the boneheaded move, which came despite no such move by the state to shutter or scale-back restaurants or other businesses that have been more closely linked to spread of the virus.
Sam Pirozzolo, vice president of the NYC Parents Union, whose son attends a Staten Island high school, called de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s handling of city education during the coronavirus pandemic “beyond incompetence” when asked about the mayor’s rare mea culpa.
“This is not real education. It’s getting worse and worse and worse,” Pirozzolo fumed of the remote and hybrid schooling plan.
Haile Rivera, who has two children enrolled at PS 91 in The Bronx, said, “This decision to close the schools has just led to more confusion and frustration.”
But, the dad said of de Blasio, “Finally, the man admitted he made a mistake.”
“De Blasio was trying to show he was leading the nation by opening New York’s schools. He got a few headlines,” said Rivera, who is running for City Council next year. “Then he closed the schools. How embarrassing.”
The de Blasio administration, over the summer, established that in-person learning at all Big Apple public schools would stop if the citywide coronavirus infection rate hit 3 percent on a rolling seven-day average.
That metric was hit on the nose last Thursday, and de Blasio switched all students at city schools to 100 percent remote learning.
And since a plan to get the schools back open was not in place, despite weeks of city data showing COVID-19 infection rates inching closer and closer to the 3 percent threshold and the mayor being asked about it by reporters almost daily, the de Blasio administration has been scrambling to figure out what to do next.
“I think what really happened was — as with everything COVID — we had a moving target. We were trying to see if there were measures we could take to avoid going past the 3 percent,” said de Blasio, who first admitted last week that a schools reopening plan had not been formulated.
The mayor — who the Post reported in October has taken to long walks before and after his daily press briefings, instead of busying himself at City Hall — explained, “That’s really where our energy was going, deploying the testing, trying to take actions that we thought might avert the original measure being hit.”
“And honestly, we’re putting tons of energy — all of us — into trying to keep making the schools better, trying to address the huge numbers of questions that came up with blended learning, with remote learning and so many other things,” he said.
Still, de Blasio owned up to the basic fact that he should have had a back-up plan ready to go in the event that that the city’s coronavirus infection rate hits 3 percent or more over a seven-day average.
“I think we didn’t have a plan B and we should have had a plan B, but I also understand why we didn’t because we were really dealing with so many day-to-day, hour-to-hour issues and trying to avert getting to that three percent,” he said.
And de Blasio ordered the public schools shuttered even though he has said that the schools have proven “to be very safe.”
According to the Department of Education, random internal testing of students and staffers in school buildings consistently yielded minimal infection rates hovering around 0.19 percent.
De Blasio promised Wednesday that the details of a reopening plan will be revealed next week.
Many New Yorkers have pointed out the seeming incongruity of closing schools amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, while Big Apple restaurants and other businesses have not been ordered closed by the state.
Pirozzolo called the 3 percent threshold to close schools an “arbitrary” and “bogus” number.
“This is all BS. It’s not based on science,” he railed.
Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy schools chancellor under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, echoed those remarks and said the 3 percent threshold was “set too low.”
“The NYC school system is in chaos,” said Nadelstein, adding, “It’s nice that de Blasio admitted that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. You have a mayor who doesn’t have a plan and a chancellor [Richard Carranza] who doesn’t have a clue.”
Nadelstern said there’s “real damage” happening within the city’s school system — the largest in the nation — and predicted that parents will pull children out due to inadequate remote instruction and uncertain policies.
“I think it’s important for the public to be aware that [de Blasio] chose for it to be this way,” said Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn), who chairs the Education Committee. “This is not the best that New York City can do, this is the best that he can do.”
State Sen. John Liu (D-Queens), who chairs the senate’s New York City education panel, said, “The sad reality is that DOE officials, along with teachers and principals, could have had a comprehensive plan with contingencies in place by September, but they were scuttled by the mayor’s obstinate pursuit of in-person schooling at the expense of the vast majority of students and families.”
“Schools would be better off if de Blasio were less controlling,” said Liu.
Meanwhile, the latest city data shows data shows that the Big Apple has a 3.05 percent infection rate on a seven-day rolling average, while the daily citywide positivity rate is at 2.74 percent.
That data also shows that on Monday, hospitalizations have increased with 141 new patients admitted to city hospitals with suspected COVID-19 and 45 percent of them testing positive.
“Overall, our hospitals are doing very, very well, but that jump is a concern,” de Blasio said.
The city’s seven-day rolling average of new virus cases is at 1,447.
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