New York

De Blasio defends controversial decision to keep schools open during storm

Updated with today’s school attendance numbers

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s decision last night to keep schools open was made with “imperfect information” about a snow storm that hammered New York City just as educators and students began their morning commutes.

At a late morning press conference to update the city about weather conditions, de Blasio said that forecasts projected “as little as three inches on the ground by the time kids walked in the door of their schools.”

“Based on our knowledge of what sanitation could do over night, we were convinced that kids could get to school this morning,” de Blasio told reporters from the Office of Emergency Management offices in Brooklyn.

Not many of those students made it to school, according to preliminary attendance figures released this afternoon. Just 44 percent of students were in school, even lower than when schools were closed in January after a storm dumped 12 inches of snow in some parts of the city and temperatures hit single digits. Average daily attendance typically hovers around 90 percent.

De Blasio ultimately defended the controversial call, which has been criticized by both the teachers and principals unions and parents who said the inclement weather made streets and sidewalks too unsafe to expect people to make it to school.

“So many families depend on their schools as a place for their kids to be during the day, a safe place, a place where they not only are taught but they get nutrition and they are safe from the elements,” de Blasio said. “So many of these families have to go to work. They do not have a choice. They need a safe option for their kids.”

But Chancellor Carmen Fariña said she might revert back to making announcements about school closures later in order to make more informed decisions. Back on Jan. 3, when 6.4 inches fell in the early morning hours, Fariña announced at 4:50 a.m. that schools were closed.

Last night’s call was made at 10:33 p.m., hours before any snow started. Fariña said she has pulled an early trigger in recent weeks so that parents would not make alternative plans in case schools were closed at the last minute. 

“Might there be times that we decide not to call it the night before but to wait until the next morning?” Fariña said. “That’s one of the things we’re going to talk about and think about.”

In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg made a preemptive call before a major snow storm hit the city. But in that case, Bloomberg announced that schools would be closed and said he did it early for parents who needed to figure out what to do with their children.

“I want parents to be able to start making plans,” Bloomberg said at the time. “One of the difficulties in canceling school in our city is that parents depend on schools to take care of their kids. An awful lot of our families, the parents work, and so it really is an imposition on them in finding somebody to take care of the kids if the schools are closed.”

At the press conference, Fariña said that lateness from students and teachers would be excused. A department spokesman said student absences would be coded as “inclement weather”, but personal days would still be counted for teachers who called out.

“It has totally stopped snowing,” Fariña said. “It is absolutely a beautiful day out there,” a comment that she later clarified to mean that conditions had improved compared to earlier in the morning. Warmer temperatures turned the snow to rain and roads cleared up, but a stiff headwind and slush on the sidewalks made walking difficult.  

Criticism continued to pile up from educators and parents. TV weatherman Al Roker piled on over Twitter, saying de Blasio’s comments were misleading since forecasts consistently predicted that snowfall would hit the hardest immediately before schools opened. 

It’s the fourth major storm since de Blasio entered office six weeks ago in what is amounting to an unusually harsh winter for the city. De Blasio has gotten stricter since he cancelled school on Jan. 3, keeping the system open in subsequent storms.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”