Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
Majority of Students at City Schools Took a Snow Day
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Schools Chancellor Cathie Black kept public schools open Wednesday, but fewer than half of the city's students went to class.
Citywide attendance was just 46 percent Wednesday, compared to nearly 90 percent last Wednesday.
Attendance was lowest among high school students. Just 37 percent went to school. Fifty percent of elementary students showed up for school as did 47.5 percent of middle schoolers, according to the Department of Education.
Schools Chancellor Cathie Black, at a press conference with the mayor, said that she decided to keep the schools open after a conference call with city officials early Wednesday morning.
She acknowledged that informing the public just before 5 a.m. wasn't perfect, but "that's the best we could do" given the fact that the storm happened overnight.
"The worst we could do is close the schools and have it be a beautiful sunny day and have all these kids running around, closing schools would have been a greater inconvenience to working parents," she said.
Mayor Bloomberg agreed.
"Our kids are better off in school," he said. "Hopefully they are getting an education because there are a lot of the teachers, a majority, who do show up on a day like this. No. 2 there are an awful lot of parents who would have to choose between getting a paycheck and taking care of their kids."
Some parents complained on Websites and blogs about the late notice at 5 a.m., or they worried the streets were too dangerous. Paul from Staten Island wrote on WNYC's site that with a winter weather emergency declared, "We are asked to say off the streets, yet the schools are open?"
But at Central Park East, Parent Association President Yhane Smith agreed with the mayor and chancellor. She said she took her two young children to school by bus and encountered no problems. "I think they had a more productive day at school than if they had been home with me," she said, adding that it was helpful to be able to work from home, as usual.
But many students were hoping for the day off. In Jackson Heights, Queens, Susan Latham said her third-grader, Jacob, couldn't sleep while hoping for a snow day. "He was up extra early checking to see if there was a snow day, and then was very disappointed when there wasn't."
But when he got to his school, PS 69, many teachers were absent. According to the Department of Education, 37 of the school's 100 teachers didn't turn up for work today. Parents at a few schools have complained that their children were placed in crowded classes when teachers were out and that they weren't learning as much.
The Department of Education said it will take a few days before officials will know absentee rates for teachers. Unlike students, their names aren't swiped into an electronic system each morning.
The city has more than 8,600 substitute teachers it can call on, enough to cover more than 10 percent of the workforce. Subs are paid about $150 a day. Individual principals decide whether they want the subs.
City schools have closed just six times since 1978, with a total of eight days of classes lost due to unforeseen circumstances. The city always adds a couple of extra days to the annual calendar in case of snow.