Parents are storming the New York City Department of Education’s Facebook page and using any public medium to let Mayor Bill de Blasio know they are not happy with his decision to keep schools open during a snowstorm so powerful the governor declared a state of emergency.
The New York Post culls the most ardent criticisms of the administration online, where parents question de Blasio’s commitment to the safety of children who must now voyage out in conditions he himself deemed unfit for most to drive in. Many parents questioned the legal repercussions of a potential injury on school grounds or on the way to school. Others outright called for a lawsuit against the city. They did not accept the multiple justifications given for keeping schools open.
While shoveling the outside of his home, the New York City Mayor told local network PIX 11 that he was keeping schools open because of the good work of the sanitation department. “Roads will be in pretty good shape so we thought it was right to go ahead with school,” he noted, adding that the snow was “pretty easy to shovel.” By this morning, de Blasio spoke of the storm’s “timing and intensity” and told residents they would “help [themselves] and everyone else by staying off the roads.” He did not, however, close schools.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña offered an explanation other than the cleanliness of the snow-ravaged roads for keeping schools open. She left the decision of sending kids to school to parents, but she argued that “many of our kids don’t get a hot lunch and, in many cases breakfast, unless they go to school. So it’s still a parent’s decision whether they send their kids to school or not.” Classes would be in session nonetheless, however, so the parent would make the decision knowing the child would miss academic material.
Students are not the only ones hurt by the decision. One school in Brooklyn reported that more than half the teachers took the day off, and with a shortage of substitute teachers, the principal was forced to find a Disney movie and plop all the children in the auditorium for the day. A representative of the teachers’ union described it as a “safety” issue, one that de Blasio appeared not to take particularly seriously.
New York City is stunningly large and varied, and many residents who live far from the core of Manhattan feel forgotten in the decision to keep schools open. Among the most outraged residents of the city are those furthest from Manhattan who are still recovering from years-old natural disasters. On Staten Island, the snowstorm is landing almost a month to the day that the last of Hurricane Sandy’s victims were allowed to return to rebuild what was left of their homes. A coalition of residents who just returned have plans to rebuild at least 60 homes by the end of 2014–homes that, to this day, are barely more than a pile of rubble.
Sensitive to the power of nature and more dependent on cars for transportation than the rest of the city, Staten Island residents were especially incensed at the idea of driving their children to school this morning. Local publication The Staten Island Advance notes that it is being “inundated” with phone calls from angry parents looking to speak to anyone who will make their plight public. Many parents told the paper the same thing: “Staten Island is different. They don’t get that.” Most Staten Islanders cannot make their way around the island using public transportation and, as noted, have to navigate still un-rebuilt areas.
State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Staten Island, chided de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña for “[getting] it wrong today.” She said in a statement, “The visibility and weather conditions are very poor and the safety of New York’s students should be paramount when making a decision on school closures.” State Senator Andrew Lanza, also of Staten Island, fumed on Facebook, just like many parents, that the decision puts children in “unnecessary danger” and “is just wrong.”
This is the de Blasio administration’s latest in a string of snow-related fumbles (not including the time he dropped Punxsutawney Phil on the ground). During the first snowstorm of de Blasio’s term, residents of the Upper East Side went without salt and snow plows and decried the “crazy” mayor for “punishing” the wealthier neighborhood. De Blasio’s snowstorm responses have been so badly received he could not even escape the wrath of Al Roker.
De Blasio announced earlier this month that he is expecting to close New York City schools for Muslim holidays and the Chinese New Year.