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9 suggestions for how New York City could balance snow-day interests

Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s continuing defense of her decision not to close schools for snowy weather rests heavily on the idea that some students depend on schools for security and safety.

That idea has resonated with New Yorkers — but many don’t think the choice is so black and white. Our readers, and others on social media, have offered suggestions for how Fariña might achieve the goal of serving high-need students without putting other families and educators at risk.

Meg started the conversation on this story from last week about the de Blasio administration’s theory of snow days:

I think if Farina and de Blasio want the schools to be a community resource open in these conditions for the free lunch and heat, then so be it. I agree with this idea wholeheartedly!! BUT, make schools just that: community rec centers that are open to those who need them and staff who can safely make it and will be paid per session (or given extra PTO days) for showing up. This way we are not pretending to educate kids when there is 30% attendance; the kids can play basketball in the gym, watch movies in the auditorium, play chess in a classroom and get 3 meals a day in a warm building. But at the same time, teachers, school staff and students are not being penalized for not attending work/school in unsafe weather conditions.

With this option, I have a feeling that if we [educators] are not forced to keep up the farce of teaching on days such as this, those of us who live in the city and have mass transit as an option, will still make it out to provide a safe haven for our students. Those who live in the suburbs and have children whose schools are closed can stay safely at home.

Chet responded:

Seriously, the department needs to come up with better policies about closing schools during storms like this. … Instead of just opening or closing the entire system, how about borough by borough decisions? How about opening just some school buildings to serve essentially as shelters on days like this for those children who can’t stay home, and staffed by volunteers (there will always be some people willing)- similar to the hurricane shelter system.

Other suggestions came on Twitter:

@ChalkbeatNY can we please set up a "non-educational" day 4 snow? Paid volunteers and needed staff come in 4 needy kids? Solves all probs

— Robert Rose (@ierosebeef) February 13, 2014

One commenter, Ms. V, suggested that the city could ask families what they prefer. She wrote:

It also seems like snow day policy could be included in the DOE family surveys… why not ask parents (1) when they want to get the news and (2) what factors they take into account when making the decision about sending kids to school. Let’s hear what families are really thinking and what would help them most.

And several people suggested that policy solutions to the snow day conundrum lie outside of the education realm.

Wrote wgbrg in our comments:

What might make a BIG difference on decisions to close schools on serious snow days, is if there were any legislation in place that protected working parents if public schools are closed and they needed to stay home with their children. Clearly this is just as important as sick leave.

And here’s a comment from the Department of Education’s Facebook page:

Finally, some in the city are prepared to make a deal to make the snow-day decision easier for Fariña next time:

.@ChalkbeatNY @capitalnewyork @MarcSantoraNYT @deBlasioNYC @NYCDOE how many kids rely on meals in school? @cbebk will make 500 next time.

— Andy Bachman (@andybachman) February 13, 2014

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