Mayor Bill de Blasio fought back criticism for his administration keeping schools open during Thursday's snowstorm. Credit: Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor's Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his administration's decision to keep the city's schools open despite a massive nor'easter slamming the five boroughs.
Even as forecasters predicted as much as 12 inches of snow in New York City through Friday morning, the mayor said there were no signs that the city's 1.1 million public school students couldn't safely make it to their classrooms on Thursday.
Flanked by agency heads from the sanitation, transportation, emergency management, police, fire and education departments at the Office of Emergency Management offices in Brooklyn, de Blasio pleaded again that New Yorker stay off the roads unless urgent or absolutely necessary for either work or school.
De Blasio fought off suggestions that the city put students and parents in danger by both asking residents to stay off the roads but keeping schools open, describing last night's predictions as a "gray situation."
"I want to make 100 percent clear," de Blasio said, "as a parent and having a chancellor who is parent and a lifelong teacher, we make these decisions with the safety our children in mind at all times."
De Blasio added that it would be very easy for him to call off school every time a snowstorm hit the city. Thursday's snowstorm was the sixth since de Blasio took office.
"That would be illegal," he said. "It's our obligation to run a school system."
School closures due to snow have been rare, de Blasio added. Over the last 35 years, schools have only had 11 snow days, he said, spanning five administrations.
Had the city predicted a foot of snow between midnight and 6 a.m., which might have further prevented morning commutes, de Blasio said the decision would have been different.
The decision to keep the city's public schools open was made Thursday night, Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina added, because the administration was anticipating warmer temperatures that wouldn't prevent students from going to class, even if they were a little tardy.
Farina also posited that the first and only school closure of the year was an easier decision because predicted temperatures were below freezing. That wasn't the case today, she said.
"And by the way, just coming down here, it has totally stopped snowing," Farina said. "It is absolutely a beautiful day right now. So the reality is we make decisions based on what we know at the time."
However, at least one politician fired back at the administration. Public Advocate Letitia James said she was concerned about both the conditions in the morning and in the afternoon, given the mix of snow, rain and ice commuters could expect at rush hour.
"It is clear that a re-evaluation of the criteria for closing New York City schools is needed after today’s storm," James said in a statement. "We must adjust the standards so that students, teachers, administrators and parents are not put in harm’s way."
Both de Blasio and Farina said some parents have expressed gratitude to the administration, especially working families. However, both officials committed to offering up earlier information to parents and teachers to alleviate some of the frustration.
"Lessons learned," Farina said.
De Blasio also responded to NBC weatherman Al Roker, who sent out a barrage of tweets criticizing the administration for not closing schools. The "Today" show co-star, who has a daughter in a New York City public school, used Twitter to predict that de Blasio would only have a single term.
De Blasio begged to differ.
"I respect Al Roker a lot, watched him on TV for many years,” de Blasio said with pointed deference. “It’s a different thing to run a city than give the weather on TV."
But the last word of the spat went to Roker.
Mr. Mayor, I could never run NYC, but I know when it's time to keep kids home from school — Al Roker (@alroker) February 13, 2014
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement that he understood the desire to keep schools open.
"The only thing that trumps that is safety," Mulgrew added. "Having students, parents and staff traveling in these conditions was unwarranted. It was a mistake to open schools today.”
Mulgrew later amended his remarks to praise de Blasio's and Farina's comments on improved communication with parents and staff.