Governor Andrew Cuomo has authorized all school districts in New York state to re-open this fall for in-person education, including New York City, he announced in a press call on Friday.

“You look at our infection rate, you're probably in the best situation in the country,” Cuomo said. “So, of course, we can open schools and that's true for every region in the state.”

Each district's plan will still need to be approved by the state’s health and education departments, though Cuomo did not give timelines on those approvals.

Cuomo’s announcement comes as New York City school officials are facing increasing pressure from educators over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s blended learning plan that would bring most students back to campus for in-person instruction between one to three days a week, and enrolled in remote learning the other days.

The country’s largest school district with 1,800 public and charter schools serving 1.1 million students, New York City is the only major American city that plans to launch in-person instruction this fall, as de Blasio cited the city’s low rates of COVID-19 infection cases — consistently below 3% since June 10th.

De Blasio has set a goal that the city's public schools could reopen its classrooms to students as long as the positivity rate for testing remained below 3% on a seven-day rolling average of tests. At least two cases in different classrooms would trigger a complete school closure and shift to remote learning for two weeks.

A request to the city DOE for comment about the governor’s approval was not immediately answered Friday. In a tweet posted shortly after Cuomo's announcement, de Blasio said that schools "will reopen safely."

Cuomo also said that he expected each district to hold at least three town hall sessions with parents and school members before August 21st, with the state’s five largest districts to hold at least five meetings. Each district needs to have a special town hall just for teachers as well, he said.

“These school districts have to be talking to the parents and talking to the teachers because if the teachers don't come back, then you can't really open schools,” Cuomo said. “If the parents don't send their students, you're not really opening the schools.”

Cuomo said school districts need to publicly release their plans on mandatory contact tracing, testing, and remote learning, though he also did not share any protocols or requirements that districts should meet.

The governor acknowledged big questions remain unanswered, especially on how testing will be carried out in school communities effectively, particularly with the risk of asymptomatic spread and the lag in getting test results. In New York City, residents have waited as long as 10 days to get test results.

New York City is a rarity in opening schools for in-person learning at all — of the country’s 15 largest school districts, 13 have opted to start the school year with online learning only. On Wednesday, Chicago, one of the few major school districts that had been planning for hybrid learning, announced it would switch to full remote learning amid mounting pressure from the teachers union and an uptick in infections.

Even with Cuomo’s approval, the road to reopening New York City schools is still complicated. While DOE officials said the city would update school buildings to improve ventilation and air flow, many of the 1,300 DOE facilities are overcrowded and understaffed and equipped with outdated HVAC systems.

This week, the city’s United Federation of Teachers union and the New York State United Teachers have asked that a single COVID-19 case in a school should trigger its immediate closure for 14 days, though some officials worry such policies would will lead to more schools shuttering in lower-income neighborhoods where COVID-19 was much more widespread, including Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Some members of the UFT have also threatened to stage sickouts as well as a lawsuit over the city’s reopening plan.

Cuomo said the districts will have to have “significant discussions” with teachers. "Teachers have to feel safe. They can't teach if they don't feel safe, you know. You're not going to order a teacher into the classroom and say, ‘do your job even though you don't want to be here, and you feel like your health may be threatened.’ They're not going to be able to teach in that environment," he said. "So the teachers have to agree to go back."

"As Governor Cuomo noted, parents and teachers must be confident that schools are safe before they can reopen. In New York City that is still an open question," said UFT's President Michael Mulgrew in a statement.

New York City officials submitted the school health and safety protocol plans, including contact tracing, to the state July 31st, and obtained an extension until August 14th to submit school-specific plans.

Friday is also the deadline for students to decide whether to elect for full online learning rather than the blended learning model. Students whose parents have not filled out the DOE's online form will be registered for the hybrid plan by default.