De Blasio: Keeping New York City schools open was right decision


New York City public schools were open again Friday, this time with a full slate of field trips, after-school programs and PSAL games scheduled as planned, though a hazardous travel advisory remained in effect.

Shoveling snow outside his Park Slope, Brooklyn home Friday, de Blasio made no apologies for his decision to keep schools open Thursday, despite the fury of many parents.

"What leaders do is make decisions and we make decisions that are never easy," said the mayor. "We make decisions with the information we have. With the information we had we did the right thing."

A day later, parents were still venting their frustration online with comments like, "He made a horrible, terrible mistake and needs to own up."

Another wrote, "I like him, but I think he was wrong."

But if fellow politicians thought the mayor was wrong, they hardly showed it, and seemed uncomfortable even sort of criticizing him.

"I think we need to re-evaluate the metrix and the standards by which we close schools and obviously we should err on the side of public safety," said the city's Public Advocate, Letitia James.

The decision to open schools Friday was not a surprise, one day after de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina came under intense criticism for keeping schools open on a day when fewer than 50 percent of students showed up. Farina drew particular ire by stating that it was a 'beautiful day.'

Families with busing questions should contact the Office of Pupil Transportation at 718-392-8855. As always, parents should exercise their own judgment with regard to their children.

Despite outrage from the head of the teachers union and many parents, de Blasio defended the decision at his Thursday news conference.

"So many families depend on their schools as a place for their kids to be during the day, a safe place where they are not only are taught, they get nutrition and they are safe from the elements," he said. "So many families have to go to work, the members of these families have to go to work, they do not have a choice, and they need a safe option for their kids. So as long as we know our kids can get to school safely, and we know we can operate our schools effectively, we make that decision...I want to emphasize it is a rare act, in fact...since 1978 I think our figures are, about 11 times schools have been closed in that time frame. So it is a rarity, and it's something we do not do lightly."

But the mayor and chancellor are now re-evaluating how they'll declare snow days in the future.

As to her 'beautiful day' comment, insiders called it bone-headed and insensitive, but the mayor Friday would not.

"I didn't make that comment but I respect my chancellor, look I think she was trying to say it had stopped snowing, it was starting to clear," said de Blasio.

Many parents took to social media to express their outrage, while the United Federation of Teachers condemned the decision in a statement from President Michael Mulgrew.

"I understand the desire to keep schools open," he said. "The only thing that trumps that is safety. Having students, parents and staff traveling in these conditions was unwarranted. It was a mistake to open schools today."

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis also issued a statement critical of the decision.

"The City of New York got it wrong today," she said. "The decision by Chancellor Farina to keep all public schools open was misguided. 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. Keeping schools open and expecting children to travel through heavy snow, sleet and ice at the same time the City is urging residents to stay off the road is nonsensical. Additionally, when making future decisions on school closures, the City should take into account the plight of the outer boroughs that have less transit options and many secondary and tertiary roads that take much longer to be plowed during a heavy snowfall as today's."

Farina was on the defensive, saying "Damned if you do, damned if you don't." She said the decision is ultimately up to parents, but she has to keep students' best interest in mind.

"If people can go to work, then kids can to school," she said. "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. My decision is where the kids are safest and the most taken care of, and the answer to that is in schools."

Farina called herself the snow chancellor, with just five weeks under her belt and a third snow emergency. She said it was a third tough call whether to keep more than a million kids home from school, but one that had to be made.

"If we started taking snow days every time it was likely, we'd already be regressing at least five days worth," she said. "We know, particularly in the younger grades, that for every day children are not in school, they regress two days worth of education."

The harshest criticism came for her comments on the conditions outside, which will likely be remembered for years.

"It has totally stopped snowing," she said. "It is absolutely a beautiful day out there right now."

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