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The snow-day crisis, chilling arrogance and administrative incompetence

by Arthur Wilson, staff reporter

A mostly melted scene outside of WJPS showing the last stretches of the snowy 2014 winter season, leaving behind unanswered questions from students and parents to the Department of Education on why school was open through a storm that pelleted three inches of snow into the ground per hour, while the Chancellor claimed it was a beautiful day outside. Photo by Arthur WIlson.
A mostly melted scene outside of WJPS showing the last stretches of the snowy 2014 winter season, leaving behind unanswered questions from students and parents to the Department of Education on why school was open through a storm that pelleted three inches of snow into the ground per hour, while the Chancellor claimed it was a beautiful day outside. Photo by Arthur WIlson.

A family sits together by the warmth of a radiator in the midst of sheets of snow piling around their home, crouched around a TV, desperately awaiting the news that they only dread will come sooner than later – New York City Public Schools will be opened the next day, regardless of how many inches of snow fall into the night.

Even hours before the worst of the storm passes over the Big Apple, the administration decides to push classes forward, despite travelling conditions worsening. This only became a weekly occurrence for the city that never sleeps, or closes schools, as families of students bit down on one of the worst winters in years.

A new mayor storms into office

Six major storms have swept through the northeast this winter, all in the span of two months. The new year also marked the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s three terms. Bill De Blasio took office as the 109th mayor of New York City, a Democrat pushing for Pre-K reforms, and a reevaluation of former Mayor Bloomberg’s school closing policies.

Yet De Blasio found himself in a gripping situation. Two days after his ceremony on New Years Day came the first of many snowstorms. Facing inches of snow piling on the ground throughout the night, De Blasio called for schools to be shut, much to the joy of administrators and citizens everywhere, who welcomed the new mayor.

But they didn’t imagine the slew of winter adversities and sheets of slippery ice and crusty snow to fall in the weeks following.

“I felt [the Mayor] was being obnoxious and uncompromising in his decisions [on leaving schools open]. He didn’t care about [when] the public was telling him to cancel classes for safety. On one of the days with bad weather, my dad tried to drive us to school and we got into an accident near Francis Lewis Boulevard. We just decided to go back home and not try it again after that,” junior Dennis Mitts said.

De Blasio has faced a large number of criticisms from parents and teachers, upset at how him and the new chancellor, Carmen Farina, handled the weather situation as it pertained to public schools. As many Catholic and county schools outside of the city announced their closures throughout the evening, De Blasio told reporters to ‘expect’ an opening, only made official by 5 A.M. the next day.

“I understand why the DOE didn’t want to cancel school; it’s a safe place with meals, but parents don’t necessarily listen to what the mayor decides, so kids won’t come in anyway, and we get half of the school absent as a result,” physics teacher Ms. Katz said. “It’s embarrassing thinking this is who [we] voted in, and now he acts like this.”

There is general agreement that De Blasio performed poorly in these storms, and he should know better. Weatherman Al Roker of all people started blasting his actions, live on Twitter.

“I knew this am @NYCMayorsOffice @NYCSchools would close schools. Talk about a bad prediction. Long range DiBlasio (sic) forecast: 1 term.” Roker possibly implicated that De Blasio’s behavior sealed his fate to that of the typical one-term mayor losing his office next election season due to already losing the faith of the public with his brawls to keep school open.

De Blasio’s hasty response was childish to say the least. He only rubbed it in deeper with a tweet from the NYC Mayor’s office later that day, that ‘New York City has had eleven snow days since 1978’.

New York City’s Department of Education shows an excessive amount of pride and ego towards itself that only seems to misrepresent the public who elect them to ensure their kids have a proper and safe education. And allowing school buses filled with children to run in inches-deep ice and on slippery roads isn’t safe at all. Neither is leaving them for hours waiting crawling buses.

“After school ended one day during a storm, I just stood outside waiting for the Q76 to come. And it just didn’t show up. Traffic stopped around the street, and some people gave up and started walking through the snow to go home,” sophomore Chris Stenna said.

A ‘beautiful’ day

The comedy only continues from here. Chancellor Carmen Farina, a long time assistant principal with years of experience in education, appeared in a press conference in the late morning on February 13th. after a particularly daunting storm to defend her irrational moves on keeping schools open.

“This storm was so unpredictable, and what we heard last night is not necessarily what we saw this morning [in relation to the weather].”

Snowfall reached it’s highest peaks around nine in the morning on that day, following predictions from weather reports that stated snow would accumulate at it’s highest in the morning. The precipitation continued into the afternoon turning into dangerous sleet that made roads slippery and travel difficult for parents picking up their children.

“[It has] totally stopped snowing. [It is] an absolutely beautiful day out there right now.”

And to put the carrot nose on the snowman so to speak, a preliminary attendance report released by the DOE showed that 44.7% of students showed up for school that day. Surely this was a beautiful day for the teachers who sat in empty classrooms, rather than to remain home in safety.

Farina paid no heed to students who travel to school across the city, or use multiple subway and bus lines. The NY Post recorded her statements on absences that kids who did not show up would be officially marked as absent, saying “At the course of a whole day, you can still get to school.”’

Two school bus accidents were reported during the storm, according to the NY Daily

Amidst all the disbelief and anger parents and learners vented towards the top administrators of citywide education, De Blasio defended his actions, saying that “I’m going to make decisions based on the information we have [on the storm, and weather].”

De Blasio reportedly would only cancel schools if ‘an entire foot of snow accumulated’. The February 13th storm brought up to 9 inches of snow in some areas. None of the other storms of the season reached 12 inches, but they were forces to be reckoned with, for students freezing in the inclement weather and for parents blocked in traffic due to moving school buses.

“My fingers were completely frozen by the time I got home, hours after school was over,”  junior Jacob Godoy said. “The bus took forever to arrive.”

De Blasio ruined his introductory act as mayor with his open-school folly. It’s a shame for many voters who expected him to be a mayor of reforms, to correct Bloomberg’s term of school closures and teacher rating systems, and to bring widespread Pre-K for four year olds.

What happens when they catch the frostbite of his brilliant plans come next year’s storms?

An unclear forecast for next season 

On the subject of reform, administrators do agree that a change in the way snowstorm closures are handled is needed.

“A reevaluation of the criteria for closing New York City schools is needed after today’s storm,” Public Advocate Letitia James, a close De Blasio ally, said. “We must adjust the standards so that students, teachers, administrators and parents are not put in harm’s way.”

“I can’t say we should have more snow day. This season was very snowy, but there needs to be more consideration to shut down in cases where students and teachers are at a serious risk while travelling to school,”Ms. Katz said.

Weeks after the huge February storm, and no mention of school closure policies have been put on the table by either big wig of education. It seems that New Yorkers will be doomed to three more years of arrogance and lunacy out of the very man they voted to rectify the education system in the first place.

“The new mayor is a complete joke. All he wants to do is open schools and put people in danger. Just wait until a real school related accident happens during a blizzard,” said Stenna. “I hope he’s ready for the parents’ lawsuits next year.”









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