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Thus far, the winter of 2013-4 has brought with it some of the most inclement, uncomfortable weather in the past several years. Amid the treacherous snow and ice, numerous motor vehicle accidents, and a grand total of 55.6 inches of snowfall this season, schools remained open. This decision by the Department of Education has stirred discontent from parents, students, and faculty alike.
Recently, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina issued a statement deflecting criticism of her decision, stating: “It’s an absolutely beautiful day out there.”
I’m sorry, could you please repeat that? “An absolutely beautiful day?”
Although I am skeptical as to what the Chancellor qualifies as clement weather, Thursday, February 13 was certainly not Spring.
Despite media backlash, the Chancellor and Mayor de Blasio have defended their decision, citing numerous arguments for the necessity of open schools.
Chancellor Farina noted that a number of students depend on schools to acquire daily meals, the ones coming from less fortunate families.
However, by indicating that the pivotal role of schools in providing food for poorer students, the Chancellor has equated the titles of “school” and “soup kitchen.” Is it morally wrong? Not entirely, but schools were built to be places for training minds, not filling stomachs. The Chancellor insults students when she insinuates that their primary purpose for attending school is to eat, rather than to learn. Although I sympathize with the plight of my less fortunate comrades, it is worthwhile to note that several city agencies exist to provide food for the underprivileged.
It may seem unkind and indecent to deny my comrades a meal, but when it comes at the expense of a majority of the school’s safety, it is no longer so unkind and indecent.
Most important to consider, however, is this: if Chancellor Farina sought to provide meals to less fortunate students, then why was it necessary to mobilize all aspects of the DOE?
Instead of opening schools to all students, why not organize a volunteer food hall in all schools to accommodate these individuals? Why not have the food service staff come in, rather than force the entire school to travel in such adverse conditions? Schools in NYC do stay open during the summer to provide free lunches, but they aren’t full of students then, so why do they have to be full now?
And what about the commute?
The Chancellor stated, “If people can go to work, then students can go to school.”
Little do you know, Chancellor, I do not own a car.
My commute to school, similar to that of my colleagues, relies wholly on the public transportation system. Inclement weather, as has been proven time and time again, slows public transportation, if not completely impedes it. A bus scheduled for 7:38 may well not arrive until 8:00. Students could arrive at school an hour late.
The waiting time for the buses and trains, much of which is spent on a cold, long line is the most dangerous part of any student’s commute on snow days. The exposure of students to the elements for such a long period of time leaves them tired, damp, and oftentimes sniffling. Can Chancellor Farina really justify forcing students to brave such nasty weather?
Another argument is that keeping schools open also helps parents by giving them a place to leave their children as they go to work. This places teachers in loco parentis. By opening schools on Thursday, Chancellor Farina insulted teachers everywhere; rather than embracing their roles as educators, teachers became babysitters.
The frustration for teachers does not stop with their jobs though. Numerous teachers in Townsend Harris live in the outer boroughs of New York City, and a large number in Long Island. Their commute is far more dangerous than any of ours, yet their obligation to the DOE forces them to comply.
Critics may bring up the fact that schools are required to have students in for 180 days. To this, I can confidently say that Harrisites would much sooner sacrifice a day or two of their summer vacation, rather than brave dangerous weather conditions. Some people who oppose this alternative argue that learning does not occur in the summer-time when these “make-up” days would take place.
But, do we learn much on a day with 44% attendance?
On snow days of such minimal attendance, teachers often postpone tests, lessons, and activities until the following day. On days like these, learning does not occur and time is wasted.
On an ironic note, a meeting of Farina’s, scheduled for the afternoon of February 13 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, was cancelled due to “inclement weather conditions.”
In the end, the decision between summer vacation and snow days is a matter of commute. And, without a doubt, I would rather commute to school on a sunny, hot morning, rather than an icy, white morning. Regardless of whether or not the Chancellor orders schools open, students will inevitably judge for themselves the proper course of action.