It has been exactly 18 months since New York City public schools closed due to the rapid initial spread of the coronavirus. During this time, students, parents and employees of the New York City school system, the nation’s largest, had to adjust to a series of abrupt changes that disrupted and reshaped the lives of around 1 million children and 1,800 schools in the district, eventually leading to a full reopening on Monday.
The city wasn’t alone in dealing with twists and turns along the way as the pandemic swelled and ebbed, new variants appeared, vaccines were introduced, and scientists and policymakers revised their directions. New York was able to partially reopen last fall while other major city peers have all remained virtual for most of the year, and the city has not experienced significant transmission of the virus in its schools.
Here are the key dates and developments.
March 15, 2020
Under immense pressure, Mayor Bill de Blasio is shutting down New York’s public school system for in-person instruction. The move, made after the shutdown of several other major school systems, comes as attendance plummets and worried teachers are staging work stoppages to demand action. “It’s not something in a million years that I could have imagined having to do,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Distance learning begins
Students and teachers return to class virtually instead of face to face, as everyone tries to get used to virtual teaching. Officials say they hope to bring everyone back to in-person instruction later in the spring if the virus outbreak abates.
Spring is lost
Former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announces that schools in New York State will remain closed until the end of the school year – confirming what other city leaders, including Mr. de Blasio, had predicted for several weeks.
Plan a partial reopening
Mr de Blasio said the city’s public schools will not fully reopen for the 2020-21 school year. Instead, it presents a partial reopening plan calling on school leaders to establish staggered timetables and other measures to help schools respect social distancing and minimize transmission of the virus.
In-person and online options
De Blasio announces that schools in New York City will offer in-person and virtual instruction and allow families to choose either mode.
A delayed start
Mr de Blasio is postponing the start of school in person for the pupils due to logistical problems and political conflicts with the teachers’ union. The school year finally begins on September 21, 10 days later than initially planned.
As the virus quickly spreads outside of schools again and the city’s test positivity rate surpasses 3%, the threshold the mayor set for closure, New York City is shutting down schools after just eight weeks of in-person instruction.
Primary schools will reopen
Mr de Blasio bluntly announced that all public elementary schools would soon reopen in stages for students who had previously opted for in-person instruction, and that the city would drop the 3% positivity threshold for school closures. Colleges and high schools remain closed for the moment.
A new push
An increase in transmission of the virus that took hold during the holidays brings the city’s test positivity rate above 9%, prompting teachers’ unions to demand the closure of open elementary schools in the city.
In-person classes resume at city colleges for at least part of the week for students whose families had previously chosen this option. With elementary schools reopened earlier, about a quarter of the city’s students are back in school buildings.
High schools reopen
The city’s gradual reopening is reaching its high schools, with about half offering full-time in-person education for most students and the rest offering a mix of in-person and distance learning.
More distance learning option
Mr de Blasio announces that when the new school year begins in the fall, the city will no longer offer a distance learning option – a major step towards a full reopening in September.
Vaccine mandate for staff
Mayor Bill de Blasio said all employees of the city’s Education Department will need to receive at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by September 27. The requirement applies to every adult working inside public school buildings, including teachers and principals.
New testing and quarantine rules
Mr de Blasio has issued guidelines requiring random testing of 10 percent of unvaccinated people – including adult staff and freshmen and above – every two weeks. When a person tests positive, close unvaccinated contacts will need to be quarantined, but not necessarily entire classes. A negative test within five days will end the early quarantine. Parental consent is required to test children.
All public schools in New York City are reopening for full in-person instruction.