Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Isn't NYC Public School teachers' safety important too?

Last night another 8 inches (approximately 20 cm) of snow fell on NYC. This is only a few weeks after we on Staten Island got hit with 30 inches (approximately 76 cm) of snow. While there was a major issue over lack of timely street plowing last time - something that NYC is usually very good at - when I drove my wife to school this morning, the roads had seen a snow plow already.

But the issue was why was I driving my wife to school this morning? Although the roads had been plowed once, there was still a lot of snow on the roadway and a lot of slipping going on, and the temperatures aren't expected to rise above freezing for at least a week (or more) so conditions will only get worse for now. I have over 40 years experience driving in these conditions, but like most would prefer not to - and it's the other driver who doesn't adjust to the conditions that you have to worry about. In addition, it meant that my wife and I were up by 5:00 AM listening for the decision whether to open NYC's public schools or not. Almost every other school and school system in the region had announced last night that their schools would be closed. (Yes, less snow fell than was expected at that time.) But our mayor decided to wait until 5:00 AM for that decision (isn't that the Chancellor's decision?), leaving parents with a potential last minute scramble to either find someone to watch their children who are too young to stay home alone, or take a day off from work themselves. If the decision to open the schools would be made, teachers would have to be up very early to shovel and get their cars ready and able to make the trip. Not every teacher - few in fact - can really take public transportation.

So while our Mayor continues to ask NYers to stay off the roads, at 5:00 AM it is announced that NYC Public Schools (the largest school system in the US) will indeed be open - and on time.

Now let's look at this decision. If the roads are unsafe for motorists, are they any safer for the school buses to carry children to school? And how about the teachers who drive to get to school? Is their safety unimportant?

Now to be honest and fair to Mr. Bloomberg, this is not something that has just been happening under his watch, but in the last 30 years or so, the New York City public school system has only closed for weather a total of 6 times! And it's not that the school calendar doesn't have the necessary days built in to it so that they still reach the required 180 days of instruction. No it's simpler than that.

On days when almost every other school in the tri-state area is closed - and announced as early as the night before - NYC's public school system is used as a babysitting service. Yes, I understand the hardships created by closing the schools on the parents who work. They then have the choice of having to take the day off or finding appropriate care for their child. But don't the parents of children in the other schools have the same issues? And is it any safer for a child to be out and either on a bus to school (school bus or public transit)? And of course there is the question of teacher's safety as well. Not every teacher lives local to the school in which they work. In fact, that is very unusual in 4 out of the 5 boroughs of NYC. (I will admit that it is more likely here on Staten Island, but that is a story for another day.) In fact, many teachers travel quite a distance to get to their school.

The truth of the matter is this - keeping the schools open is not about education. It is about daycare. It is a place where parents can drop their kids off to be watched all day. In fact, many of these children will even get 2 hot meals - breakfast and lunch - free while they are there. In many cases, course work does not get done, and when it is so bad that many teachers simply cannot get there, children spend the day in the auditorium, so that they can be watched by the teachers who are in attendance.

And don't forget ... even for teachers who are "local", it may not be - probably isn't - a safe trip into school.

So is this how New York City views its education system and educators? Unfortunately, yes.


  1. When we lived in Rochester Minnesota, the schools NEVER closed but the plows were out in the middle of the night and the roads were all cleared. When we moved to Deerfield IL, north of Chicago, the schools closed for bad weather because the teachers lived in western suburbs and it was unsafe to drive thru drifting snow. The kids walked back in the olden days. Here in Marietta, GA most kids ride the bus and this part of GA is very very hilly. And the schools have been closed. The State School governance board can forgive extra emergency days. I think four are built into the calendar. It would not surprise me if the schools were closed tomorrow. The schools are closed Monday for the MLK holiday. So I think NYC is making a big mistake but I don't know the rules of the contract the teachers worked under. But I think it's a shame that the teachers are not treated better and put in danger's way.

  2. There are dates built in to the NYC educational calendar to cover the state mandated minimum number of instructions days plus (usually) about 6 or so extra. If this was about losing state aid or falling below the required number of days, there still would be alternatives - as they did when I was young and we lost too many days to snow. It's just wrong that the main reason schools are open are for babysitting/feeding purposes. I know that is an important issue, but is that the purpose or responsibility of the education system?

  3. Totally agree with you. There have been a few days last winter that they didn't close the schools or cancel the buses when they should have. I've complained but it falls on deaf ears. For our district, they have to make the decision to close so early that things will get worse within the hour and they haven't cancelled. Sad really!