Complaints Pile On; Schools Chancellor Says It's "A Beautiful Day"

Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 10:24 AM

School Bus stuck in Brooklyn during snow storm of Feb. 13, 2014 (Manoush Zomorodi)

Never one to mince words, Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers union, expressed what many New York City families and educators were thinking on Thursday, that it was "a mistake" to keep public schools open during yet another messy snow storm. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña defended the decision in a press conference this afternoon but said there were "lessons learned" in the process. She then went on to say that "it is absolutely a beautiful day out there right now."

Listen to an edited cut of that comment, and her response to a reporter's follow up question in the clip above.

She and Mayor Bill de Blasio said the forecasts overnight presented a "gray situation" in terms of the snow accumulation and chilly temperatures and that many working parents needed the schools to remain open for their children.

But, on one point, Fariña said they could have done better:

"There is a real need to have a protocol in place so that the whole community understands why we make certain decisions," she said. "And one of the things we're certainly going to go back and think about at this point is how do we let parents know."

To which Mulgrew issued a statement: “While I disagree with the decision to open schools today, I agree with Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña that the system needs to develop a clear public protocol that will help parents and staff understand how and when officials decide to close or open schools.” 

Ernie Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, argued that safety concerns should have trumped all else.  

"If ever there was a day to set aside bureaucratic concerns, today was the day," he said. "With heavy, and sometimes blinding, snow falling on the city, and winds gusting up to 35 miles an hour, no child, teacher or administrator is safe negotiating their way to school by foot, public transportation or automobile. Over the course of the day, snow will turn to sleet and back to snow again. Travel is extremely dangerous."

During the mayor's press briefing on Thursday, Fariña went so far as to downplay the weather, calling it a "beautiful day," before reiterating her argument that the best place for children during the day is in school.

"Every child who went to school today will be going home tonight knowing something they didn't know yesterday and, to me, that is what it's all about." she said. "If we started taking snow days every time it was likely we'd already be regressing at least five days work."

At least one parent, Renu Nahata, disagreed with the decision, and she put the blame squarely at the feet of de Blasio.

"I think he should've called it. I think he should've called it last week too. This is a hard day to get to school and it's taking all the joy away," she said.

WNYC reporter Andrea Bernstein had this to add as she dropped her kids off at school this morning: "The snow was horizontal, quickly filling up our eyes, covering backpacks. There was sort of disbelief, like, 'wow we can't believe that there wasn't a snow day today.'"

For a little insight into how the Department of Education calls a snow day, WNYC spoke to D.O.E. deputy chancellor for operations, Kathleen Grimm.

"This is a call that is made based on the best information we can assemble and based on our experience in these matters," Grimm said. "Every storm is different so every response is different.”

The chancellor added that students would be excused for late arrivals today but would not be excused for absences. She also cancelled her publicly scheduled appearance at a town hall meeting in Brooklyn's School District 23.


Comments [15]

Jane Wilde from NYC

I think they're making the right call to stay open, hard as it is on teachers (and I come from three generations of NYC public school teachers.) Parents who have other choices can elect to keep their kids at home, but for parents who have no choices, having school open is a public service. No, it's not about education, but it is about the safety of thousands of NYC children, some of whom might be left alone, or have their parents be fired. We are not a city of understanding employers, especially for the least privileged among us.

Feb. 14 2014 02:40 PM
RJ from prospect hts

When the decision was made to close the schools, was any provision made for children whose parents could not make other arrangements for their care when they were required to go to work?

Feb. 14 2014 01:08 PM

Yeah, bro, closing schools and not closing schools on the worst storm of the year is totally equivalent! Here, let me try one:

"Trotsky criticizes Stalin for executing the original Bolsheviks"

now tweaked:

"Trotsky criticizes Stalin for NOT executing the original Bolsheviks"

Yeah, you just can't win with the bourgeois press, haters gonna hate, right?

Crap like this is why we can't have nice socialist things.

Feb. 13 2014 08:23 PM
ERF from UWS

I'm surprised that de Blasio has "been around" city government as long as he has and is still making such rookie mistakes.

The not-ready-for-primetime players have arrived!

Feb. 13 2014 03:45 PM
Mark from New York City

"Criticism of Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña's decision to keep schools open today is piling up almost as quickly as the snow."

Let's tweak that just a bit:

"Criticism of Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña's decision to close schools today is piling up almost as quickly as the snow."

It doesn't matter what anyone does. Criticism "piling up" is as predictable as the sun rising in the east. I can't imagine why the media even reports it anymore.

Feb. 13 2014 03:27 PM
juljo from Brooklyn

If children have to go to school for a meal, than that is an issue we should be better addressing - but not at the cost of putting other children at risk on the way to school. When a child is hurt or worse killed on their way to school due to the weather conditions, will the city be held responsible?

Feb. 13 2014 03:17 PM
Lewis from Rockland County

I used to respect Carmen from my days in in DoE, but this was a mistake. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I assume she is covering for the Mayor who most likely made the call. The decision always goes out over the Chancellors name.
This was about economics. When the schools are open they get funding from the state, for every student in attendance. Some money is better than no money. As for respecting the staff;they can always find new teachers to replace any ones that may get killed in a traffic accident. New teeachers are cheaper than veterans.
Remember, in the 2013 primary elections the UFT and CSA didn't support DeBlasio. Can you spell P_A_Y_B_A_C_K?

Feb. 13 2014 03:17 PM
Avi in Brooklyn from Sheepshead Bay

WNYC announcers have commented on the difficulties of staff getting to their school posts in very inclement weather, usually adding it's especially true for those traveling from outside the five boroughs. In fact, some of the most difficult commutes are of staff members traveling across the city; many commute between boroughs, and because schools are located in all areas, their trips are often to areas not served well by public transportation. Still, in almost every case staff attendance far exceeds students'.

Feb. 13 2014 03:08 PM
Josh from Bronx

The DOE and City Gov should just call the decision to leave schools open what it is, an economic decision. With such a large number of employees on the city payroll, they can't justify giving us all a "day off" without at least docking a sick day. At my school, we only had 3 teachers out today, but had %23 attendance among kids. Even though I truly believe everyone in the building is being "productive" in some way, the resentment and frustration over us being here clouds any potential positives from the day. To say that keeping the schools open has anything to do with education is silly,

Feb. 13 2014 02:35 PM
Hot Vco from manhattan


Feb. 13 2014 02:17 PM

this was a disgraceful day. PERIOD! I hope that all studedents get home safely.

Feb. 13 2014 02:07 PM
Debbie from Cypress Hills

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm warning for our region. Isn't that enough of an expert opinion to guide the DOE?

Also, everyone knows that the students usually get sandwiches on stormy days as few students are in attendance, and the cafeteria is probably short-staffed. So the idea that students are getting a "hot meal" is also misplaced.

Feb. 13 2014 01:42 PM
er-nay from UWS

Teachers are not babysitters! You talk about respecting "educators", well making them keep a small group of children busy for the day by watching videos because there are not enough children to teach a meaningful lesson is idiotic.
Time for a recall?

Feb. 13 2014 01:36 PM

They kept NYC schools open today? This is the worst storm of the winter, what kind of apocalyptic blizzard are they waiting for to call a snow day?

Feb. 13 2014 01:19 PM
Michelle from Astoria

The mayor keeping school open despite all the warnings given prior to the storm, despite the accumulation of ice on sidewalks and streets (that the Sanitation Department and the MTA has not been able to address), despite the salt shortage in the region, despite states of emergency, is truly unfathomable. Farina describing today as "beautiful"must be symptomatic of dementia. In what universe is she living in? How does De Blasio think this press conference and the tone of it is helpful to his administration? De Blasio's press conference and his administration dodging these issues is worthy of a Daily Show opening monologue. It deserves parody. And I am a democrat.

Feb. 13 2014 12:59 PM

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