In the Decision to Close Schools, Cuomo & de Blasio’s Egos Reign Supreme

A simple decision led to yet another tug-of-war between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

On May 1, Cuomo announced that schools around the state would be closed for the rest of the school year, marking yet another setback for educators and students during the coronavirus pandemic. On its surface, the news made sense. Under the hood, however, the story features twists and turns due to a couple of egos in positions of power.

Early last month, de Blasio announced that New York City schools would be closed for the rest of the school year. Following de Blasio’s announcement, Cuomo retorted asserting that he has the legal authority to determine whether schools would close. Several weeks later, he announced that schools would close.

When asked about the battle between the mayor and governor, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew kept things down the middle and supported the decision to close schools.

“The governor recognizes the difficulties of re-opening school buildings in a way that is safe for students, staff and families,” said Mulgrew in a statement to the AmNews. “We fully support his decision to keep school buildings closed the remainder of this school year. This gives educators, parents and elected officials time to tackle the challenges of re-opening the buildings and figuring out the right balance of in-person and distance learning for when they do.”

During a media briefing last week, the mayor told reporters that he and Cuomo spoke recently, but it was about the MTA. When it came to school closures, however, de Blasio said both parties knew what side they stood on and understood that Cuomo had to think about the rest of the state and not just the five boroughs.

“I think the governor understands fully why I am––feel so strongly,” said de Blasio to reporters. “And I’m a parent, you know, my kids went to public schools the whole way through and I feel very, very close to public school parents and educators. It was a big part of life, my life, the life of my family. So, you know, the governor understands that I fundamentally believe it is not safe to bring back New York City public schools for this academic year, period.”

Schools have been closed since March 18 under an executive order by Cuomo, due to the coronavirus and calls for social distancing. With the likelihood that it would last a while, some thought it’d be inevitable that schools would close for the rest of the year. Yet, the egos marched on in the press attempting to establish power of the other. New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told the AmNews that he’s the glad the mayor and the governor are finally on the same page.

“Our main priority is to keep our City’s students, educators and parents safe,” said Johnson in an emailed statement. “I’m glad parents can now plan ahead knowing schools will not re-open this year, but of course it’s heartbreaking that this is happening. I am glad the governor and the mayor are in agreement to put our students and educators’ health first.”

Cuomo is right in that, when there’s a declared emergency, New York State law permits the governor to take over school-closing powers. However, the governor didn’t use his power to preempt school closures. This allowed de Blasio to make his announcement and determine the outlook of the city’s education system himself. It was only after this announcement that Cuomo used said emergency powers.

When asked about the mayor and governor’s public battle DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido chose to praise the mayor for getting out in front of the situation.

“We support the mayor’s decision and are appreciative of his efforts to put the safety of our children and safety first,” Garrido.

The back and forth between the two parties didn’t sit well with some local politicians, particularly New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake. While speaking with the AmNews, Blake called the battle a sad state of affairs given that people’s lives are in both men’s hands.

 

Black and Brown communities continue to suffer because of political games. People are hurting in ways I’ve never seen before and every time we don’t coordinate not only is someone physically dying, but all hope can be lost.

 

— Assemblyman Michael Blake