I wrote this post during the last storm and just did not get a chance to post it. I still have not edited completely so forgive me for that. Would love to hear your feedback!
Whether you believe in Climate change theory or not, one thing is for sure, we have never seen a Winter like this in New York City! And come to think of it we never had a Fall like 2012 with Frankenstorm Sandy. New York City, is being hit with weather which frankly, even this tough native New Yorker, is caving in under the snow and I know I am not alone. The snow, the ice and below 0 temps have got us down. With all of this, there seems to be one constant in all of this change, the Mayor of New York City, the Chancellor and Department of Education will almost never close schools or even consider a delayed opening. While this is not new to New York City, the weather has changed drastically and we are putting our kids in danger, our parents in danger and our teachers and administrators in danger just to keep schools open. It is time for New York City to get with the times:
It's more than just the weather that needs to be a factor when making a decision to close schools-I get that but it's time we think out of the box and look at other options using commonsense approaches that fit the times. Here are my ideas of how to address some of the issues:
1. The steady rise in housing costs in New York City have made it difficult for teachers to live in New York City or even in the neighborhoods that they teach in. Many teachers must commute from the outer boroughs that are often not plowed by the early morning or they live in the suburbs. Teachers and staff need time to get to their schools on snowy mornings and therefore, at the very least need a "Delayed Opening" if not a school closure altogether. Using a "Delayed Opening" as a real option might make the difference in having a few more staff members and can help educators not risk their lives. This also touches on affordable housing issues- I believe a recent article in the New York Times discusses the lack of affordable "Limited Equity " housing. I think it is essential that more affordable housing, specifically for teachers should be created in the 5 boroughs. Read about "Limited Equity" housing here.
2. Teachers traveling from the suburbs equals late or absent teachers or worse teachers traveling on unsafe roads (after all these human beings are already sacrificing enough to build our nations future) and should be protected. What does this do to the school? This creates unsafe teacher/student ratios. It leaves the Principal and support staff scrambling and to tell you the truth, probably very little learning happens on days like this. In fact, for many teachers snowy days with high absenteeism of both teachers and students can make you feel like you are paid babysitters.
3. Which leads me to...I understand that Mayor De Blasio and the Chancellor is concerned about the "Tale of Two Cities" and that many parents cannot afford childcare or are not able to miss work on snow days. Hell, I'm working and I'm not sure I could pay for childcare in Manhattan for a full day for 3 children without being set back a chunk of change. It is time to create public emergency back up daycare. Schools are not daycare centers and the government has to stop viewing teachers as babysitters. It is time to accept RFP's from interested Community Centers in each district to provide back up childcare on snow days. It happens a few times a year (provided you add more delayed openings) and I bet many community programs would be willing to provide this service. Parents can sign up in the beginning of the school year and fill out all necessary paperwork.
4. We already know we need 180 days of school and 3 days are built in as snow days. What's funny about this is even if those days are not used we still have to teach on those days at the end of the year. Make sense? Not to me but that's another battle entirely. We also know that these 180 days are tied to- funding and we must fulfill these mandated 180 teaching days or those funds will be taken away. This brings up the point again, to use "Delayed Openings"- we keep the day but allow parents to get to school slowly and allow children to be well dressed and calm and ready to learn- instead of sending them out with no socks, boots that are a size too small, no hat and one glove all in a rush to get out of the house and be on time.
If you must keep schools open on days that are really tough to travel
on then you must allow those students and classroom teachers that are unable to attend an
excused absence. Parents are made crazy about attendance especially
during application years to Middle School and High School. Parents and
children struggle to get to school so they will not be marked absent.
What makes this particularly frustrating is parents are sent mixed
messages. As for teachers living in the suburbs, they recieve messages issued by local and state governments like "there is
a State of Emergency", "Stay home if you are not essential employee", "Stay off the roads" and "Use your discretion when sending your child to school". We need to
give teachers, parents and students the choice to comply with these State and City wide mandates without being penalized.
5. Chancellor Tony Alvarado, came up with idea that children in 5th grade should apply to middle school in New York City. Students can apply to schools in their District but often travel over 2 miles away from their home. If they go to a Magnet School they could travel much farther. The problem as it pertains to weather, is we have children as young as 11 traveling in "dangerous conditions" (not my words just listen Al Roker and every other Weather forecaster) on public transportation, alone. My son's transportation public pass only allows him on the bus. I have no idea how long he was waiting this morning while freezing rain poured on him at his bus stop with no shelter (we could not find an umbrella because it took him time a long time to tie up his winter boots and when he saw he was late for the bus he ran out the door- boy! a delayed opening could have really helped). If his pass did allow him on the train it would have been worse, as our local trains were out- signal problems. While I am all for city kids learning how to navigate the city and gain independence- bad weather conditions is not the time to test these skills out. In fact, as I'm writing this post my son has just walked in 35 minutes late and told me his public bus broke down and he and his middle school friends walked a half a mile until they saw another bus. He's frozen- He survived but wiped out- and now he is expected to fulfill his pounds of homework so as to fulfill the Common Core Standards- In his words "Bite me". I can't blame him.
I know we are still getting used to the "the new normal" when it comes to the weather but it is time we accept that New York is no longer spared in Mother's Nature's wrath. We need to set up common sense protocols that keep our educators, parents and children safe. Start by using a "Delayed Opening" it will keep kids learning, teachers safe and everyone less stressed. I, for one will be investigating how we can set up public emergency childcare.