between the lines

What snow day policy tells us about the de Blasio administration's educational philosophy

This winter’s uncommonly bad weather has offered a view into the de Blasio administration’s conception of the purpose of schools.

Asked why the city had decided to keep schools open today while also warning against unnecessary travel, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña offered a vision of schools as tools for social welfare. They also said that parents, whom they have said they want to involve heavily in the school system, should be free to decide whether to send their children to school on snowy days.

“I am a public school parent — I see these decisions through the eyes of parents,” de Blasio said during a press conference this afternoon, adding that while safety is “obviously first and foremost,” he was also concerned about unsettling families’ delicately made plans.

“A lot of parents have very difficult schedules and rely on the consistency of the school schedule for a good and safe place for their kids to be,” de Blasio said.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña reiterated that idea, noting that “no big businesses in the city closed so I’m assuming all parents who work had to go to work.” (She also noted that New York City has closed schools only about 10 times in the last half-century.)

Like de Blasio, Fariña emphasized that schools provide more than instruction for some students. “What about the kids for whom the schools is a safe haven?” she said. “Many of our kids would not have had a hot lunch today if the schools hadn’t been open.”

Their tone — which resembles the one they have taken when discussing the need to expand pre-kindergarten programs quickly — was very different from the one that former mayor Michael Bloomberg took when he justified keeping schools open in the face of bad weather. While he acknowledged parents’ logistical needs and said he aimed to make snow day calls the night before to help them plan, he focused on schools’ educational mission.

“There was no reason to close public schools today. What we’re trying to do is to get our kids an education that they’re going to need for the rest of their lives,” Bloomberg said in 2006 on a day when 62 percent of students made it through two feet of snow to get to school.

About the same proportion of students attended school today, Fariña said during the press conference. (Only 47 percent of students made it on another snowy — but sunny — day last month.) She emphasized that parents could choose whether to declare a personal snow day and keep their children home.

“The decisions parents have, not to send their kids to schools somewhere, is their decision,” she said.

The idea of parental choice made it into the city’s press release early this morning announcing that schools would be open but field trips canceled. “Parents, as always, should exercise their own judgment with regard to their children,” the release said.

The city’s press release announcing Monday as a school day did not include that line, but the one it issued last week did. On all three occasions, most districts near the city closed schools or opened them with a delay.

Fariña offered the same explanation a week ago at her first Panel for Educational Policy meeting. “You’re damned if you and you’re damned if you don’t,” she said in response to questions about how the city decides when to close schools for snow.

“Parents can make a decision about whether to send their kid to school or not,” Fariña said. “And there were enough kids in school today that for the parents who need the schools to be open, we did a great job.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”