OP-ED: City Takes Easy Way Out

It is irresponsible to group all of New York City’s public school students into a single designation when it comes to a weather-related need to close schools. In New York City, the public schools are either all open or they are all closed. Despite the fact that a massive storm like the one we experienced today dumped differing amounts of snow at different times – as well as ice in some areas and rain in others – the city’s schools were treated as a single unit, indivisible.

But you know what? They do have divisions – by district, by age range and by need. The two arguments made by the mayor and his chancellor are that schools have to remain open so that kids can get a hot lunch and so that parents who are unable to arrange coverage for their kids if schools are closed don’t have to lose pay by taking a day off from work.

As a concept, that makes sense, but what is the reality of the situation and how does that reality shift when seen through the eyes of district, age and need? The districts are certainly not created equal from a socio-economic standpoint, and younger kids generally tend to be within walking distance of their schools whereas older ones can spend more than an hour on public transit each way.

On a day like Feb. 13, when people were told to stay home – when people were told to use mass transit rather than drive – students still took their typical routes to school aboard a transit system sustaining delays and anticipating greater volume.

The mayor and his chancellor say the needs of the few for meals and accommodation outweigh the safety of the masses. We are a city with more than a million school-aged children, yet we treat them all the same, even when there’s a foot of snow in the Bronx and just a few inches in Staten Island.

That seems to be the easy way out, honestly. Why not take the time to create a way of handling the meal and accommodation needs of those who need them and not putting the remainder – in some districts the vast majority – of students in jeopardy where their trails to schools are hidden by growing mountains of snow at intersections that remain unsafe from one storm to the next? Why not track, contact and aid those who need it, and allow the rest of our children the safety of not having to walk blocks to the subway on a day when the mayor is telling everybody to stay inside? Why not create a system that is not one-size-fits-all and avoid having kids taken to the hospital after dangerous roads cause a school bus accident in Brooklyn?

We are a city of millions, of five boroughs, of divergent needs and of one constant – the safety of our children. Our current system is failing and it is only a matter of time before we are forced to react to tragedy as a result of not taking the proactive step now for a smarter weather response for our children’s schools.

Brian Rafferty,
Former Member,
Community Education Council, District 24
(Editor’s Note: The letter writer is a former editor of the Queens Tribune.)