Explore

COVID Education Time Capsule — March 15, 2020: Remembering the Day New York City Shut Down America’s Largest School District

March 17 – An empty hallway on what would otherwise be a school day at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in Manhattan (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

It was early Sunday evening on March 15, 2020 when Mayor Bill De Blasio ended the speculation and announced an official course of action amid the spiraling coronavirus emergency: “I regret to have to announce that as of tomorrow our public schools will be closed. In other words, to all parents who are hearing this now: There is no school tomorrow. And we will be suspending our public schools until after the spring vacation.”

Here’s how it looked on television screens across the city, as the news broke in with the emergency update:

He then laid out a hopeful timeline for the crisis: “I’m going to say this very precisely: We will make a first attempt to restart our schools on Monday, April 20. But I have to be honest that we’re dealing with a lot of unknowns and a lot of challenges. And we understand how difficult it will be to achieve that goal.”

School buildings would not open in April, nor for the next several months to follow.

It’s a bit surreal, to revisit those early press conferences from the spring of 2020, to see just how quickly normal life came to a halt amid a virus that no one knew much about. The March 15 press conference went longer than an hour, and reflected a city just beginning to brace for a wave of cases, hospitalizations and deaths to come:

The morning after, school campuses were deserted as the city inched closer to full lockdown. A few days later we documented the surreal quiet across both New York City and Los Angeles, where schools had also ceased operations on March 16, in a 74 Photo Diary. Here are a few of the images that linger most vividly in our memories…click on any of them to see the full collection:

Embed first empty hallway photo from here – and then make the photo link to the gallery:

March 17 – An empty hallway on what would otherwise be a school day at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in Manhattan (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
March 17 – Teachers and faculty members sit in on a meeting to learn remote teaching and methods for students at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in Manhattan. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
LAUSD Local District West tweeted about the opening of the Grab & Go Food Center at Fairfax High School. (LAUSD_LDWest/Twitter) 

8 Weeks Later: A Photo Tour of How Schools Reopened Overseas in May

Students sit at desks with plastic partitions, as a preventive measure to curb the spread of coronavirus, during a lesson at Dajia Elementary School in Taipei on April 29. (Sam Yeh / Getty Images)

…And One Year Later: 52 Weeks of a Surreal School Year (in 52 Iconic Photos)

See the full photo history.

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

On the 74 Today

The Latest

Load More Latest
Education news and commentary, delivered right to your inbox.

Sign up for The 74 newsletter.

EDlection 2022

View All

Opinion

View All

Video

View All

Special Series

More Series

More Stories

Invest in independent journalism

Donate now to The 74

Load More
Support The 74's year-end campaign

The first $18,000 in donations will be matched dollar for dollar. Please help us deliver more essential coverage of K-12 education.

'