Wednesday, February 19, 2014

De Blasio Needs to Revisit the No Snow Day Policy to Avoid Future Cases of Lost or Injured Students

So sad, the teacher in the picture and the music video has an empty classroom. Her students? They're in the street, tossing snowballs.
But seriously, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina must get square with the public on the apparent virtually no snow day school closures policy.
De Blasio and Farina's refusal to call a snow day on February 13 generated widespread frustration for parents and the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers. Attendance was very low, the lowest this academic year, officially at 44.65 percent.
As WNYC's SchoolBook reported on February 13 after the close of the school day, before 2014 attendance had only dropped below 66 percent four times since 2007. In the one and half months of 2014 attendance has dropped below 66 percent three times, on January 22, February 5 and February 13.


One might suspect that this virtually no closures policy is a de facto constitutional policy in New York City, spanning across mayoral administrations, whether liberal (e.g., Koch or Dinkins) or aggressively neo-liberal (e.g., Bloomberg), as there have been only 11 snow days since 1978. Given the safety issues and the parental uproar, we must open a frank discussion as to why this is happening, as our supposedly most left-wing mayor in decades is toeing the same line as every other mayor. As bloggers noticed in the last record low attendance no snow day fiasco, January 22, every other big city school system from Philadelphia to Boston shut their school system.

So Farina said that schools must be open otherwise students will not get hot meals. Now, I'm all for wrap around service, but her argument seems a little specious on closer consideration. How did the logical slipperiness of this statement elude media commentators, for no one noted that her argument falls apart when one considers that the schools do not serve meals on the weekends or during holidays or vacations (other than during the summer meals programs).
Furthermore, very suggestive was Farina's comment Thursday, aside from the claim that the schools are open to serve hot meals, but her comment that Macy's is open, saying that therefore the schools should be open as well (all the while, governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency for New York City and the surrounding region). The new in vogue term in the DOE and in Common Core is "inferential thinking." Some inferences that can be drawn are that, if Macy's is open, Macy's workers are needed, and that there must be no impediment to store staffing.
Below: Alekandr Trubetskoy's map of how many inches of snow are necessary for given school systems to cancel school.
(The NYC counties should be accurately depicted with the dark blue used for upper Wisconsin. Aren't there many students in the green or light blue regions that are missing school-provided hot meals also?)
The media commentators, speaking to enable city policy, have justified the policy with the reasoning that if the subways are working, then all of the children can get to school.
There are a number of problems with this thinking. The subway-focused perspective is a Manhattan-centric perspective ignores the outer boroughs where there are more elevated and surface rapid transit trains, exposed to snow and ice. Moreover, it ignores the fact that there can be streets and side-streets yet to be cleared.

Grounds for caution in the Avonte Oquendo and no zoned school eras
Make no mistake, the greatest tragedy on the Michael Bloomberg era, as noted last month, was the tight-fisted policy against proper staffing, the regime intimidating staff from reporting crises in a timely manner and co-location of multiple schools in a single building that converged to put a special-needs student at risk of flight.
De Blasio and Farina's no snow day school closures policy places students at similar risk. First, with snow amounts, and strong winds there is the risk that a student can get lost in a snow drift or knocked down by wind or snow plow.
Moreover, as some blog readers have noted, the elimination of the zoned neighborhood middle or comprehensive high school that had been the norm just a few years ago when Farina was last in the school system has meant a revolution change in how students get to school. (Yes, there are some new schools that have special academic or trade majors but by and large the new "academies" have "missions" that students do not choose and merely have a trimmed-down bare bones Regents-oriented programs devoid of specialized electives tailored to students' interests.)  For, whereas students in the past could walk to their neighborhood school, now, excepting those few lucky students still attending schools in their neighborhood such as in eastern Queens or Staten Island, students now pack into buses or subways for one to two hour commutes to reach their schools, making much of these trips alone. It is at these schools packed with commuting students that we would find the abysmal attendance rates of 40% or less that figure in the informal school attendance survey at right on this page, lest the mayor and chancellor expect students to wait for delayed (or packed when they arrive) buses or subway trains. Aside from snow issues, is it really a safe policy to insist that parents expect that their child travels to school on their own over the transit system. With the new "school choice" [sic] policies some students as young as those in the lower elementary grades must travel to schools as solitary commuters.

De Blasio and Farina, if you are putting the staffing prerogative of Macy's and other employers before the welfare of thousands of schoolchildren, you had better get your priorities straight. You can kowtow to the city's business elite and quivver before the demogogic media (think of the drubbing News Corp.'s New York Post gave de Blasio) only so much. The voters might not so easily forget these missteps the time the next election comes.