So it would appear that the honeymoon is over. While many of us bread and butter, union working types were hoping that the new mayor, Mr. de Blasio would bring some much needed humanity to his position, what it appears he has begun to deliver instead is a whole new level of double speak and political ineptness. During this year’s winter, which is arguably one of the harshest in several decades, de Blasio started on the right note, taking the safety of teachers and children into consideration by cancelling school, his concern for the general well being of teachers and students ended there.
In the subsequent weeks there have been several snowstorms that warranted closing the New York City Schools, but the schools were not closed. Meanwhile almost—if not all—of the neighboring school districts in the affected Tri-State area, and indeed the East Coast decided to close their schools in most instances, and have a 2-hour delay in others. Now, closing schools is not a game—beyond the fact that schools are supposed to be open and at this time of the year with standardized test preparation really reaching full swing, it is understandable that some might consider closing the schools disruptive. Harvard doesn’t, but some might.
Even beyond that, closing schools disrupts the possibility of a system to meet its 18o day funding quota that is sorely needed, because Americans want accountability for school systems but not the people who build their stadiums. That’s a biggie. Funding for schools is an important factor to keep in mind when you are running a city that has about a million students and approximately 250,000 staff members—any cut in funds is detrimental. The problem is that the mayor didn’t cite the 180-day quota on his explanation for keeping schools open. On two separate occasions the Mayor and his lackey Chancellor Farina cited two preposterous reasons for keeping schools open while simultaneously either declaring a state of emergency or urging people to stay home or take it slow.
“Parents have to go to work. You didn’t hear of any businesses in the city of New York closed down. Macy’s was open. So if people can go shopping and go to work, then kids can go to school”
“Many of our kids don’t get a hot lunch and, in many cases breakfast, unless they go to school. So it’s still a parent’s decision whether they send their kids to school or not. My decision is where the kids are safest and the most taken care of, and the answer to that is in schools.”
These two statements are a sign that neither the Mayor nor his supposedly well picked chancellor have any respect at all for teachers, students, or parents in the system and they need to answer for it. If we break this down bit-by-bit there is are several underlying problems here that denote not only a worse outlook on the role of school administration than the Bloomberg Era’s but also a clear indication of a problem that is far more pertinent than snow. Let’s start one at time though.
Looking at the first statement, it must be said the Macy’s is a private business. If people choose to risk their lives—as adults—to go shopping in the middle of hazardous conditions that is their prerogative. The school does have a responsibility as an institution of the people to ensure that people remain safe. By keeping schools open, and likening them to retail outlets they—and additionally stating “Parents have to go to work” doesn’t do much to dissuade the public from thinking that teachers—professionals with certifications and higher educations—are nothing but glorified baby sitters.
There is already much confusion about the amount of work that teachers do. People aren’t aware of the planning, preparation, grading, personal money spent, and actual familial problems caused by the never-ending flood of work. People are under the assumption that teachers walk in at 8 with a newspaper, clock out at 3 with a paycheck and take the summers off. Most of us are working constantly, unable to properly balance our professional and personal lives…never “turning it off” or “leaving it at the door”. The work is hard—rewarding but hard—which is evidenced by the 3-year 50% turnover rate. To state simply that “if people can go shopping” then kids can go to school, not only belittles what happens in schools and the commitment of educators and school staff, but is totally callous to the fact that children don’t make decisions about their lives.
The undercurrent issue here is safety, and its’ never been anything but that, but when you have a system that services so many children it also puts an exponentially growing amount of people in danger—bus drivers, actual baby sitters, school staff. It creates an increasingly unsafe amount of people on the roads, in the transit system, and so on. We happen to live in a society that doesn’t by default care about your children and only provides rhetorical lipservice to the concept of children because parents are employees but when those two realms clash, business often has to be the victor. The administration in this sense has not only endorsed this unfortunate and insane prioritization of responsibility, but in so doing has also managed to undercut the already waning respect for role and work of teachers and simultaneously has but students in danger. The fact remains that because the schools were open there were school bus accidents. Putting flimsy school buses on the road when others were asked not to drive if not necessary doesn’t sound like putting safety first.
So while New Jersey was shut down in a state of emergency, and Governor Cuomo was calling for a midnight shutting down of all major highways, the de Blasio Gang were looking to Macy’s for tips on public safety. Sure, kids can go to school, because someone can buy socks Midtown. Students aren’t customers, their charges, and responsibility to their safety requires deeper thinking than whether or not businesses are open. You see, if the schools aren’t opened, then children have to possibility of going outside but not the inevitability. In conditions such as these—where every sane and thinking school administrator in tens of miles has decided to close or delay their schools, New York City stays open, because Macy’s calls the shots. Kids don’t decide what to do with their lives, because they are kids; parents do decide but if the Mayor is telling them that they should go to work and that their kids are more safe in schools than at home what recourse do they have?
This brings us to the second statement and the issue of poverty and hunger in New York. The Mayor probably doesn’t realize this, but schools are mandatorily closed two days out of the week—neither he nor Chancellor Farina seem concerned about their hot lunches on Saturdays and Sundays. Nor are they concerned about them for Christmas. During the Summer, Title I schools are open for breakfast and lunch, so perhaps on snow days there should be a provision for a skeleton staff to be there to provide for those meals, but the fact of the matter remains that schools are hardly restaurants. If the only reason to keep schools open in a state of emergency is to provide food to prevent children from deadly starvation then there is an incredible problem with poverty that is being criminally overlooked. In fact, before any other issue is addressed in this city, this issue must be addressed.
Please, understand, I am aware of starvation and poverty problems. I am aware of resourcing issues. I am not making light of them. However, this statement is paramount to saying that NYCDOE’s 1 million students have a high enough percentage at risk of starvation on any given day that school must remain open while the surrounding districts, counties, and states have declared a State of Emergency. In fact, the starvation problem is so bad that most of the schools were empty because parents made the right decision to keep their students at home where they were most likely fed and kept reasonably warm for one day.
So when others claim that teachers and parents are complaining about snow while women are sold into slavery in other countries or some other baseless parallel, understand what the Mayor is saying, and how it is being said. Understand that safety is safety, and that a bad situation elsewhere doesn’t make an unsafe situation safer. And that fabricating a pandemic also belittles the families that do face terrible adversity and that are hungry and starving because the schools were not actually kept open for those reasons. They were kept open for Race to the Top money, not to fill hungry bellies or out of sympathy to child care issues.
In the face of that, there is clear disrespect for parents and teachers and an apparent lack of understanding as to what schools are for. Teachers in the de Blasio Administration are baby-sitters who complain about first world problems, Parents are scum bags who can’t create safe environments, schools are fast food restaurants (as the food is equally nutritious, but lacking in toy prizes) where children can be sheltered for a day from their awful lives with horrible food and magic clowns, and the day of a snowstorm can be described as “A beautiful day” when in fact the city can’t even clear enough snow to call for alternate side parking. For whom was that day beautiful? Those who ride in limos and get chauffeured around (not in school buses)?
The fact of the matter is simple. The schools were kept open because the city needs to meet its 180-day requirement and was not keen on making up the days in vacation time. That is the announcement that needed to be made, along with the statement that it was more than understandable to keep your student at home—or yourself—in the face of difficult weather. What was given instead was abominable language with preposterous excuses in the light of truth. A centipede couldn’t have put more feet in their mouth.
People are more than able to digest the truth, and saying that the schools were open for this reason would have seemed reasonable if tempered with the statement that only parents and individuals can make the best decisions for their safety—not a deferral to Macy’s better judgment. Many did make their own decision, but found themselves insulted and made to feel as if their commitment was less than total to their children or students by doing so.
No, there is disrespect and amateur politics going on in New York City, and while I’m not exactly missing King Bloomberg yet, I’m not exactly feeling encouraged for the administration that is currently getting started in its own mistakes. In fact, it looks like its going to be the Obama Administration all over again—high hopes, real dopes. And for teachers it means we’re going to get the short end of the respect stick and probably thrown under the school bus again and again and again.