De Blasio Defends Controversial Snow Day Decision

Bill de Blasio shoveling in front of his house. (Photo: Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor's Office)

Bill de Blasio shoveling in front of his house. (Photo: Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor’s Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio faced a barrage of questions today over his decision to keep schools open, despite forecasts of up to 14 inches of snow

For the lion’s share of more than 30 minutes of on-topic questioning following a storm update at the city’s Office of Emergency Management headquarter in Brooklyn, the new mayor and his schools chancellor repeatedly tried to explain their call to keep schools open during the sixth major storm in as many weeks.

“Given the information we had, it was right to go ahead with school. It’s not something you to lightly, to close school,” insisted Mr. de Blasio, arguing that many New Yorkers rely on open schools and citing the fact that city schools have been closed for snow just 11 days since 1978.

Many of the questions focused on the city’s decision to make the snow day call unusually early. Reporters received a notice from the Department of Education just after 10:30 p.m. last night–far earlier than the usual 4 a.m. time, which Chancellor Carmen Fariña seemed to suggest had stemmed from previous criticism. (Ms. Fariña at one point raised eyebrows when she declared, “It is absolutely a beautiful day out there right now.”)

“I think one of the things we’re certainly going to go back and look is, because of past experience–and I’ve been in the system over 40 years–we never made the calls on snow days ’til the morning of. And many, many people complained about that,” she said. “So there we decided to try to do it the night before. Because this storm was so unpredictable and what we heard last night was not necessarily what we saw this morning.”

Pressed with more questions, Mr. de Blasio further explained that when the decision was made, the National Weather Service was predicting as few as two or three inches would remain on the ground by the time kids got to school. But the snow fell faster and earlier than anticipated. 

“There are times when you can make a call the night before And when you can you should,” he said. “The earlier you can make a clean decision, the better off for parents and children because everyone can plan … We want to give people the maximum possible notification.”

In this case, however, he said that even if a call had come in the morning, it likely would have been the same. “I’m not sure at four in the morning, we would have known enough differently to have seen some of the particular situation we saw today,” he said. “You make decisions based on the information you have.”

But Mr. de Blasio’s arguments weren’t enough to sway critics of the decision–a list that includes NBC weatherman Al Roker and teachers’ union president Michael Mulgrew. Indeed, Mr. de Blasio didn’t even persuade some of his closest political allies, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and Public Advocate Tish James, who both piled on with statements questioning the snow day call after the mayor’s press conference.

“Closing schools is a very difficult and serious decision to make and I believe in this instance it was warranted,” Ms. Mark Viverito said in a carefully-worded statement.

“It is clear that a re-evaluation of the criteria for closing New York City schools is needed after today’s storm. We must adjust the standards so that students, teachers, administrators, and parents are not put in harm’s way,” added Ms. James. “I am particularly concerned about the afternoon dismissal, and the road conditions this evening. It is important that school absences are excused, and that city workers are excused for lateness connected to their commute.”