Thursday, January 23, 2014

Update: Everything's Closed, It's Like a Ruin - Working in the Ghost Schools During the Would-Be Snow Day

*Poll: what percentage of your students showed up today? *Update: Valerie Strauss notes: no cancellation can lead to extreme problems for parents: children sleeping in schools.

"Everything's Closed, It's Like a Ruin." --The Beatles, "Good Morning."

Didn't you notice an eerie quiet yesterday? Fewer people in the streets, on the roads. And far fewer than usual students.

Take the poll at the right: How many of your students actually came to school yesterday?

So New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and schools chancellor Carmen Farina insisted that the schools be open yesterday. This was ill-minded on a few counts. One of these is for safety reasons, and given the tragedy of Avonte Oquendo, the policy-makers must act soberly.

First, the day was a waste. Reports to the blogs, e.g., here and here in the comments sections is that student attendance rates in many schools were in the 15 to 50 percent range. Basically, the day was a waste, with classes doubling up due to short-staffing and the paucity of substitutes. Essentially, this disrupted the planning schedule, since planned lessons could be used with but a bare fraction of the class. The noble few that attended will have to be bored while the rest of the class catches up the next day.

Update: Fascinating Continental U.S. map contrasts snow depths and school cancellation patterns:
Snow depths apparently required for school cancellation; correction: NYC should be dark blue

Update: Queens Courier reported, "EXCLUSIVE: No snow day forces Bayside HS kids to spend day in auditorium."
"Bayside High School students spent their no-snow day in the auditorium and gym because of a shortage of teachers." Melissa Chan and Maggie Hayes reported:
After students reported to school Wednesday at 8 a.m., school officials found they didn’t have enough teachers to monitor all of the students, according to parents and students.

They were then told to call their parents to pick them right back up again.

“There had to be 35, 40 parents on line waiting to get their kids,” said Michele M. who grabbed her 15-year-old daughter around 11 a.m. “What was the point of opening up?”

Michele’s daughter and multiple students said at least 40 teachers were absent.

“More than half of my teachers didn’t even come, and more than half that did didn’t even get to teach,” said Jane, a freshman. “I just sat in the auditorium and watched Iron Man 2. I slept through most of it.”

Another freshman said he walked into school around noon and a dean told him to go home.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina made the call to keep schools open around 11:20 p.m. the night of the storm, Tuesday, Jan. 21.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who participated in the decision, said the National Weather Service “made clear that just as the snow had intensified earlier, it was slowing very noticeably around 10 p.m.”
The same Courier writers penned, "Decision to keep NYC public schools open upsets parents." They cited the newspaper's Facebook page, which asked "What do you think about the decision to keep NYC schools open today?" and got many responses:
*I think it is awful. The city is a mess kids should be safe at home today. People have not shoveled yet. The side streets have not been plowed here in Queens.
*Ridiculous, they declare state of emergency.. don't go out unless you have too, use mass transit. . SCHOOLS OPEN! I don't understand this? They closed school two weeks ago and we had half the snow amount.
*The worst decision they ever made it is way too cold and everyone says stay home if u dont have to be out and they open the schools makes no sense
*The mayor can say what he wants. .am keeping my kid at home!!
*The Mayor asks people to stay off the street and then we find out school is open. It doesn't make sense to me however there must be a reason. When my kids were little it upset me to have to drive in the snow to get them to school only to find out that many children weren't there so they just did busy work. Really crazy sometimes.
*i work in a high school doing attendance. About half of the students were absent! No answers for you???
*It was inconsiderate and dangerous. A waste of time to sit in a class with four students.
*Glad i moved out of the city
*We had less snow last time and they closed and this time 10.5 inchs and bitter cold and state of emergency and they open
The problem was probably worse in the high schools than in the elementary schools and middle schools. The last two are still largely neighborhood based in their student populations. So with parents and students "in the community" it is not so arduous a project to make it to school. High schools are an entirely different situation. With Bloomberg's fraud of school choice, his top-secret school assignment algorithm sends students miles across boroughs or across borough boundaries. On a normal day it takes many of these students an hour and a half or two hours to travel the MTA to school. On a would-be snow-day it must be worse. Farina needs to talk to people that have access to student addresses to understand the kinds of commutes students have. Students' commutes have gotten far worse since Farina last worked in the schools.

Second, and more seriously. At numerous schools a third to half the teachers did not show up. De Blasio and Farina need to consider that with the special needs students certain levels of classroom staffing.  As yesterday plainly demonstrated, in a weather emergency far fewer than 100 percent of the staff make it to school. Earlier this month I noted that tight-fisted budgeting (as well as school co-locations) can contribute to risk factors in students' slipping out of adult supervision, as I suggested could have possible risk factor in the Oquendo case.

De Blasio and Farina need not let themselves get owned by the hysteria-mongering tabloid media, particularly, "The New York Post." Forget the Upper East Side's exaggerations. Those residents have enough benefits, with better roads than the outer borough streets with refrigerator sized potholes. De Blasio and Farina need to do what they can to safeguard a healthy and safe day and commute. Don't they know anyone in the suburbs, who had five hour commutes on routes that normally took about an hour, due to unplowed streets? Is a teacher supposed to have a five hour commute going home, then have a multi-hour one in the next morning? You wonder if any admins would have the audacity to commit the Danielson hit job on the teacher that day.

Besides, de Blasio and Farina have yet to adequately explain why they kept the schools open while nearly every city system from Philadelphia to Boston shut down.

Update: Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post notes: no cancellation can lead to extreme problems for parents.
Why snow days matter: Kids slept in schools because of late cancellation call

In Alabama and Georgia with the infamous recent storm Leon, official neglected to cancel school. Thousands of children were left stranded at schools, spending the night there.

Next time you think a school district is being overly cautious about cancelling school because of bad weather, remember this: Thousands of students in Georgia and Alabama were forced to spend the night Tuesday in their schools — and some on buses — while their parents got stuck in traffic jams for more than 12 hours because a rare snowstorm dumped a few inches of snow.

Students trapped in schools watched movies, played games, ate and slept — some of them on gym mats — Tuesday night, cared for by teachers, staff and administrators. Some students who were on school buses Tuesday afternoon trying to get home were actually returned to their schools when the roads became blocks of ice when temperatures plummeted.

Georgia State Patrol troopers were working Wednesday to get trapped students and motorists home while the National Guard tried to untangle traffic jams that left many parents stuck on impassable roads.

Parents were furious that school districts had not closed Tuesday knowing that a storm was coming, and then decided to close early without giving parents much warning. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“They seriously miscalculated,” said Marcus Reed, who drove 90 minutes over five miles of side roads to fetch his eighth-grade son Payton and sixth-grade daughter Marlyn from Sandtown Middle School in Fulton County. “I know every school day is precious, but they shouldn’t have had school today.”