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:

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:

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

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.