Snow Days for Schools – A Proposal
Winter 2014 should be more memorable than too much snow, ice and extreme weather. Hopefully, this winter of discontent will resolve the questions: What is a Mayor and Chancellor to do? To open or not to open our city’s schools?
First, the problem. What is the primary purpose of schooling? We can agree educators and students must come together for instruction, learning, academic achievement and personal development. Purposeful learning is the sine qua non for all schools, irrespective of demographics or geography. Beyond academics our nation’s schools likewise serve a secondary purpose, to provide a safe environment, nutritious meals and enrichment activities for children who cannot access such basic amenities in their homes, apartments or shelters.
With Thursday’s storm, Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Farina were swept into a full blown Hobson’s choice, impaled on the horns of a dilemma between school’s primary academic purpose and the secondary care and custody purpose.
Virtually all suburban and rural schools throughout the tri-state area closed on February 13th because there are more support systems in place for children’s needs in their own or a neighbor’s home. If teachers cannot safely travel to school to accomplish school’s primary academic purpose, superintendents beyond city limits are given the green light (or at minimum a bright flashing yellow) by their communities to close or delay opening, which allows the imperatives of safety to trump custodial obligations.
New York City’s schools have long felt compelled to open , at times placing educators, children, and parents at risk. The Mayor’s primary questions become:
- How do I open the schools safely when the weather odds are against the safe opening of schools?
- How do I take steps to protect the “health, safety and welfare,” of children, especially the most fragile and vulnerable, the very steps that could threaten the safety of educators and others?
Snow Days for Schools – A Proposal
This seeming Hobson’s choice can be short circuited by designating approximately 25% of a school’s staff, administrators , custodial, food personnel and other support teachers as “essential personnel” and allowing the remaining 75% to become “non-essential personnel”. On February 13th only 45% of the city’s students attended school. Trained essential staff could address these students’ needs through preplanned use of lunchrooms, auditoriums, computer labs, music areas and other locations within the building.
Essential employees should receive both their regular salaries and fairly negotiated additional compensation for working on a day when schools are better advised to close for safety. Union leaders would readily agree to select staff earning ” emergency closing pay” or being granted another vacation or personal day rather than money, if certain protections were in place. The infrequency of such events would reduce the expense of compensation to a rounding error in New York City’s budget.
There is no reason the mayor and chancellor should not have the same freedom (and luxury) of every school superintendent to delay or close schools based on the merits of safety and the vagaries of weather. Once the decision to close is made “essential personnel” report to work, affording our children a very crucial, although limited, purpose of schooling.
About the author: Dr. Ron Valenti
A veteran superintendent for over 30 years, Dr Valenti currently is Director of an Executive Leadership Doctoral program in Westchester and consults for CITE on K-12, higher ed and doctoral program issues.