NEW YORK (PIX11) – Typically, more than a million students attend New York City public schools, but because of snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain Wednesday, it was no typical school day. Those potentially hazardous conditions, however, caused some parents to complain that the Department of Education put their children in danger. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina were adamant that open schools helped children, rather than hurt them.
I.S. 59 in St. Albans, Queens could be just about any New York City school, at least in that it’s full of kids, whose parents want the best for them, including having them get to school as safely as possible in order to learn.
The school in Eastern Queens is not near any subway line, so most of its students’ families have the kids ride the school bus, or the parents pick up and drop off their children.
Doing so on Wednesday meant driving on slush- and sleet-covered roadways, only for the students to have to climb over — or walk through — more slush and sleet at the curb outside of the schoolhouse doors. Some parents were not happy with the situation, and neither were their kids.
“Unsmart decision,” parent Warren Irons said about the city’s choosing to keep public schools open in Wednesday morning’s wintry mix that it also warned people not to drive in unless necessary. “Early this morning, conditions were terrible. Who’s to say it wouldn’t have gotten worse?” asked Irons.
His son, Marcus Irons, a fifth grader, added that attendance on the wintry Wednesday was by no means optimal. “There were only 16 [students],” he told PIX11 News, out of 24.
That’s 66 percent, however, which is a higher rate of attendance than the DOE had estimated citywide. Both the mayor and schools chancellor said at a Wednesday midday news conference that, while the numbers were nothing to brag about, they did mean that the city was providing a service to students and families.
“Obviously, first and foremost, [is] the safety of our kids,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Parents want to make sure their kids education is continuing as uninterrupted as possible,” de Blasio said. “A lot of parents have very difficult schedules and rely on the consistency of the school schedule for a good and safe place for their kids to be.”
Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina elaborated on that point. She noted that in her five decades working with New York City public schools, she’d only seen the system close fewer than ten times.
She also said that if it weren’t for schools being open, thousands of children wouldn’t be able to have a hot lunch on a cold winter’s day. She also acknowledged that some parents would choose to keep their children home, but added that for most parents, not being at work was not an option.
“For the parents who made the decision to stay home with their kids, that’s great, but as of right now, no big businesses in New York City are closed, so I’m assuming all parents who work, had to go to work,” she said. “So I don’t think making a decision that’s not citywide makes sense — because the decision parents have, not to send their kids to school, or send them, is their decision.”
Some parents and students who spoke with PIX11 News agreed with Farina, albeit reluctantly, that keeping schools open was the right thing to do.
“In the end,” said high school senior Herbert Joseph, “it is kind of right that if there’s no school, some kids might get in trouble.”
But he added that a lot of students he knows may have ended up taking advantage of the bad weather by shoveling sidewalks in their neighborhoods to make extra money. He also said that he observed something at school that made him question how valid the is, based on what he saw at school on Wednesday.
“Especially on these snow days,” Joseph said, “there’s only six to seven [students] in each class… in every class. I’m a [teaching assistant], so I see a lot of classes, and I don’t see the point.”
It did appear, from unscientific observation, that the lower the grade, the higher the attendance. If true, it would support the chancellor’s point that keeping schools open in inclement weather ensures that families that need safe, healthy places for their children to be during the day have them.
Back at I.S. 59, the school’s front doors reopened at 5:55 P.M., three and-a-half hours after dismissal. A few dozen students spilled out onto the steps, where their parents were pulling up in cars to meet them. The school’s after school program was letting out, and parents who might not have been able to take the day off picked up their kids and took them home.