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

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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.