School Was Open, But No One Went

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 02:52 PM

Kids taking an unofficial snow day to play in Herbert Van King Park, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn on January 22, 2014. Kids taking an unofficial snow day to play in Herbert Van King Park, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn on January 22, 2014. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Many New York City schools had to change up their approach to classwork and rejigger schedules to accommodate lower-than-usual attendance on Wednesday.

The city's daily attendance data show that only 47 percent of students attended school Wednesday, the lowest attendance rate by far this school year, according to preliminary estimates. The year's previous low was 73 percent on Jan. 7. Typically, citywide attendance in January hovers around 90 percent.

As for how many staff members showed up, the Education Department does not provide same-day numbers, but several school staff members reported to WNYC that attendance for teachers was far lower than normal at many schools.

With low attendance for both students and staff, John Adams High School in Ozone Park, Queens, developed "Operation Snowflake" to group students by subject area. Teachers — those who made it in to school — then met with students for individual or small-group instruction.

"Probably a delayed opening would have helped with the attendance, because it was easier to get in later on than it would have been at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. — the times that our students have to leave to get to school for an 8 a.m. start," said Meghan Duffy, a history teacher at John Adams. The school had a 22 percent student attendance rate. Duffy said about 30 percent of staff members were not able to commute to work.

Several Queens schools seemed to have particularly low attendance, since many teachers commute from Long Island and students tend to commute to school by bus rather than subway.

At J.H.S. 74 Nathaniel Hawthorne in Bayside, about 50 percent of staff members reported to work, said Anthony Armstrong, the school's principal. He said student attendance was less than 70 percent.

Less than a third of students made it to Hillcrest High School in Jamaica Hills. Stephen Duch, the school's principal, said about 65 of the school's 165 teachers were absent. Many staff members live on Long Island. Like Duffy, Duch said that a delayed start to the school day could have helped attendance.

Education officials countered Wednesday that, in a school system of this scale, a delayed opening can potentially be more disruptive to families than canceling school altogether. And, in the case of this storm, the department said factors did not add up to a decision to close schools.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced last night at about 11 p.m. that schools would remain open Wednesday, and that all after-school activities and sports games would operate as usual.

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the decision Wednesday, saying that the snow slowed at about 10 p.m., giving city workers time to do a good job clearing streets.

"If we can make the school day work, by law, that's our obligation," said de Blasio.

He acknowledged that mass transit and school buses functioned well, but not perfectly.


Comments [15]

Mentor34 from Westchester

Bill de Blasio has NO DEFENSE for jeopardizing the lives of students and teachers during the last snow storm. Today's conditions are equally poor (if not worse) and he still did not cancel school. I teach in the suburbs and my wife teaches in the city. As I watched her leave for work during the last snow storm and again today in low visibility terrible road conditions, I was on edge until I got a text from her that she made to her school safely, almost two hours past her normal travel time. If 90-95 percent of the schools are closed in the region, NYC schools should close. When the governor tells people to stay off the roads and closes certain roads to tractor trailers, that should be a good indicator that students should not be on buses and teachers should not have to risk their lives in hazardous road conditions when the day is basically a wasted day, as mentioned in some of the comments above.

Feb. 13 2014 09:35 AM

It was a close call, in my estimation, whether to have school or have a snow day. Eleven and a half inches is borderline impassible — both in these times when we are much more concerned with safety of travel to and from school and when I was growing up some {inaudible} years ago.

However — apparently the Administration did not do a good job of evaluating whether the teachers and staff would be able to make it to school in time to ensure not having a disruptive learning environment. Although buses were picking children up (maybe running late, but not so much as to be a terrible problem), NYC streets and sidewalks were reasonably passable, and mass transit was not unduly delayed (including LIRR and MetroNorth), enough adults drivers were snowed in to justify calling a Snow Day.

The NYC school administrators need to reevaluate their snow-day policy so that it better evaluates teacher, staff, and administrator ability to get to school.

Jan. 24 2014 12:49 AM
Nechama from Brooklyn, NY

I am a teacher and was very surprised that schools were to remain open. 13 inches of snow and -15 degrees. If that doesn't warrant a snow day, then I don't know what will. The mayor's decision sets a bad precedent: from now on, any snow less than a foot and schools will be open.

The morning commute was dangerous and I saw several people fall on the subway stairs and in the streets. Many students do not have adequate outerwear and would have gotten frostbite from being outside for longer than ten minutes. Not to mention is is just downright uncomfortable so that by the time they do get to school, they are too angry and checked out to learn.

Jan. 23 2014 07:45 PM
P.Ventre from Flushing, Queens

As a retired teacher of young children I recall those very difficult weather days when schools remained open even though weather conditions were extremely difficult. I remember arriving at my school building to find very poor student and faculty attendance. The impact on the school day was profound. Late arrivals, understaffed classrooms, broken routines, insufficient supervision all resulted in a day of confusion and wasted learning time.
Safety and consideration for the learner, and her/his family, should drive the school cancelation decision making. "Snow days" are built into each year's calendar. They should be used as needed, not "saved" so that the school year's end, in June, may be shortened.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014, (an extremely cold, snow covered day, when citizens were advised to be extremely cautious in their daily travels,) should have been a "snow day".

Jan. 23 2014 01:35 PM
William from Washington Heights

Of course school should have cancelled. The DOE once again has shown disrespect for students and teachers alike by wasting their time. They also created a situation where the students that cut now have the notion that it is OK to cut school if it is "too hard" in their judgement to go.

Jan. 23 2014 12:26 PM
gary j. from Staten Island

While I understand the financial concerns and the fact that many parents would have had to either stay home or find somewhere to place their children, I think it's important to remember that the school system ran for years on only 180 attendance days and now it is up to 190. Snow days were rolled into attendance days because, for many years, it didn't snow. Now that we're dealing with climate change conditions, perhaps it would be a good idea to revisit the 180 day schedule and plan on a certain amount of days during the winter months (say 6, two a month) where schools will have to be closed due to weather conditions.

Jan. 23 2014 11:32 AM
irina from staten island

Of course they should've closed schools yesterday. And they should have made the announcement on Tuesday evening to give parents enough time to make arrangements. I have an SUV and it took me 2 hours to pick my son up from school on Tuesday when it normally would take 10 minutes. The roads were not even touched by sanitation and calls to 311 were of no use since they were not able to send any communications to sanitation regarding road clearing requests. Yesterday the roads were only marginally better and today they are still a mess. If you're going to make kids, parents, bus drivers and teachers go in, it's your responsibilty to clear the roads. By the way, I live on Staten Island, so it goes without question that my needs are of no interest to the mayor. If the people on the upper east side think they're being ignored for not offering huge support to de Blasio, how do you think the only borough that didn't support him fared...right.

Jan. 23 2014 09:45 AM
stevieb from Hollis Hills

My wife teaches at PS 221 in Queens Village. Had 5 out of 27 students in her class. More than ½ the staff didn't show up. She thought attendance of staff and students would have been better if school opened an hour letter. Many teachers come in from Long Island, and after the punishing trip home Tuesday probably wouldn't do it over in reverse at 6:30AM.

Jan. 23 2014 09:42 AM
rewnyc from lower wash hts

YES! We maintain this illusion that the city can spring back faster than the burbs and our kids can use public transit; but much of the outlying boro's still must contend with similar conditions, even Manhattan. Many kids rely on buses which had lot of difficulty on the roads and were very slow. We knew it would be a hazardous and very slow commute for students & teachers. All the more troubling with temps so low & wind chill! Many of our students don't have proper clothing to stand in the cold that long. It was even too cold for kids to play outside in the snow for any length of time. 47% attendance is ridiculous and illustrates what a poorly thought out decision this was.

Jan. 23 2014 09:34 AM
Stuart from Brooklyn

As much as we were really hoping for a snow day, and even though I was annoyed at the time, I think they made the right call. My 14 year-old high school daughter was out the door before 7am and got to school on the upper west side in time for her 8am mid-term. She said getting to and from school was not a big deal, just cold.

Jan. 23 2014 08:50 AM
Susan Gaffney

I was wondering if there were some financial reason that the Mayor was so quick to say that schools would be open. The State does allow a certain number of snow days (three? four?) and NYC has not used any this year. Does the school district loose some pro-rated state aid if it closes?

Jan. 23 2014 07:52 AM
Art girl from Brooklyn and Long Beach

There was a reason schools throughout the region were closed. The windchill factor was well below zero.
It was just plain dangerous. Glad to see so many parents had the good sense to protect their kids. In my opinion given the fact that many children are ill prepared for those conditions the Mayor made the wrong decision.

Jan. 23 2014 07:30 AM
Judy Schneider from Hewlett

It definitely should have been a snow day. School buses and parents' cars
would have been off the streets and that would have helped considerably
with traffic and safety.

Jan. 23 2014 07:05 AM
Rachel from UWS

Schools were warm! (In fact, they are often overheated.) Most kids do not spend that much time outside as part of their commute. It was absolutely the right decision to keep schools open.

If any day should have been a snow day, it should have been yesterday!

Jan. 22 2014 09:22 PM
mjnsl from Brooklyn, NY

Did anyone take into consideration the temperature?

Jan. 22 2014 07:05 PM

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