De Blasio, Farina Face Backlash After Keeping NYC Public Schools Open During Storm
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Despite travel conditions and emergency declarations, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday defended the decision not to cancel class for the city’s 1.1 million public school students, by repeatedly reminding parents that he is a public school parent too.
“I look at this from a number of different perspectives, including that of public school parents,” de Blasio said at a news conference, reiterating several times that he himself is a parent of public school students.
As CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported, city schools Chancellor Carmen Farina announced Wednesday night that public schools would remain open Thursday during the storm. Field trips and after-school and PSAL activities were canceled Thursday.
Student attendance amounted to 44.65 percent citywide.
Speaking to reporters around 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Farina defended the city’s decision to keep schools open.
“The reality is that we make decisions based on what we know at the time,” she said. “Because this storm was so unpredictable, and what we heard last night is not necessarily what we saw this morning.”
She added it had “totally stopped snowing” and has turned into “an absolutely a beautiful day out there right now.”
But to many parents, it was not a beautiful day in the slightest. They found themselves trudging through wind-whipped snow in near-blizzard conditions to get their kids safely to school.
Some viewers were shocked by her comment and expressed their strong opinions on CBS New York’s Facebook page:
Paige Katherine: It is a beautiful day if you are a penguin or a polar bear. I wonder which one Ms. Farina is……
Jc VanderPutten: I think I want to smoke whatever she is smoking. Does she realize what a complete fool she looks like for making that statement. There are cars stuck on parkways. People stuck on trains. Car accidents everywhere. But she thinks it’s a beautiful day! Idiot.
Vera Swensen: No wonder Be Blasio picked Carmen Farina as Chancellor.. She’s an Idiot just like him!!
De Blasio said while there was more snow than originally anticipated, the decision to close schools was “a grey situation.”
“We were convinced that kids could get to school this morning and we always emphasize in making these decisions, when you think about 1.1 million kids, so many families depend on their schools as a place for their kids to be during the day, a safe place, a place where they’re not only taught but get nutrition and they are safe from the elements,” he said.
De Blasio said the weather forecast changed over the day, and early on, it did not appear that there would be any major issue for children getting to school.
“We knew, based on the reports of the National Weather Service that we could have as little as 3 inches of snow on ground by time kids walked in the door of our schools. And we could have more; we could have 4 or 5 or more,” he said.
The mayor further defended his decision to keep the when CBS 2’s Grymes questioned him about it.
Grymes: “Do you believe that children’s lives were put at risk by the decision to keep schools open? We’ve seen parents struggling to get their kids on the school bus, especially when you’re telling people to stay off the roads.”
Mayor de Blasio: “By definition, we thought children would get to school safely based on information we had. Again, I want to make 100 percent clear as a parent, and having a chancellor who is a parent and lifelong teacher, we make these decisions with the safety of our children in mind at all times.”
But the United Federation of Teachers did not agree. Union President Michael Mulgrew said the winter storm made it unsafe for students, parents and staff to get to school.
“I understand the desire to keep schools open. The only thing that trumps that is safety,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “Having students, parents and staff traveling in these conditions was unwarranted. It was a mistake to open schools today.”
Mulgrew later added, “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.”
Public Advocate Letitia James also weighed in on the decision to keep schools open.
“It is clear that a re-evaluation of the criteria for closing New York City schools is needed after today’s storm. We must adjust the standards so that students, teachers, administrators, and parents are not put in harm’s way. I am particularly concerned about the afternoon dismissal, and the road conditions this evening. It is important that school absences are excused, and that city workers are excused for lateness connected to their commute,” said James.
And in response to the mayor and chancellor’s remarks about the “unpredictable” storm, the National Weather Service released a statement reiterating its forecast for the day.
“We cannot comment on Mayor de Blasio remarks,” the organization said. “The National Weather service put out a winter storm watch on Tuesday afternoon and upgraded to a winter storm warning on Tuesday night, by saying NYC would get 6 to 12 inches of snow. The snow did come in heavier than expected, we reported 1 to 2 inches per hour but it came in 3 to 4 inches per hour.”
As CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported, Noel Gershonowitz and his daughter, Heather, faced rough conditions on their drive to her Staten Island school. Gershonowitz was not happy with the decision to keep the schools open.
“To expect parents to get their children to school, it was probably one of the dumbest things I can remember in a long time,” he said.
On the road, they were hit by another car, but escaped serious damage or injury.
But Heather posted a long message to Chancellor Farina on the city’s website, expressing her outrage.
“I just wanted her to know that it wasn’t safe,” she said.
“It was a terrible morning,” her father added.
Teachers at P.S. 199 on the Upper West Side agreed.
“I think it was a bad call,” said teacher Pete Rockwitz. “We got in, but it was hard. No one had an easy day.”
De Blasio canceled classes during the first storm of his administration during the polar vortex period on Jan. 3.
In that storm, 6.4 inches of snow fell in Central Park, while on Thursday, 9.5 inches had fallen as of 5 p.m. Wind gusts on Jan. 3 were less than 25 mph, while on Thursday, they got up to 40 mph.
But the temperature in the storm last month was 18 degrees, while on Thursday, the temperature ranged from the mid-20s to the mid-30s.
Farina stressed temperature plays a big role in the decision-making process – as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which on Thursday officials felt was running decently.
Farina also clarified her “beautiful day” declaration earlier, reiterating that the snow had stopped and temperatures were increasing when she made the remark.
“In terms of some of the dangerous situations that might have appeared at 7 o’clock this morning, I don’t see that right now,” Farina said. “That doesn’t mean I can predict three hours from now, but it’s much better.”
Some agreed with the decision to hold classes.
“It’s more important for the kids to be in school,” one man said.
And despite the absences Thursday. kids said they did learn.
“We didn’t do math today,” one little girl said. “Yes, but we did nonfiction reading.”
De Blasio said schools have only been closed 11 times because of snow since 1978.
Most nearby districts as well as Catholic elementary schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island were closed Thursday due to the snow.
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