Bill De Blasio under fire -- from Al Roker -- for keeping schools open
Mayor Bill de Blasio came under intense criticism from parents, the teachers union and some of his political allies Thursday over the city's decision to keep public schools open despite blizzard-like conditions in the morning hours.
Even NBC weatherman Al Roker joined the second-guessers' chorus, prompting de Blasio to retort: "It's a different thing to run a city than to give the weather on TV."
The mayor said uncertainties from pre-storm forecasts influenced the decision-making, but added that he would reconsider procedures for making the calls in the future.
"Our job is to make a decision that's always a tough decision and with always, by definition, imperfect information," de Blasio said at the Office of Emergency Management headquarters in Brooklyn.
"This storm sped up," he said, with "more accumulation than was expected." Nevertheless, he said, "I still think we did the right thing."
Some parents didn't think so.
"It's dangerous for the children to be out here in this weather," said Teri Young, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who has two boys, ages 9 and 12.
Tina Downer, 49, kept her 17-year-old daughter home from Tottenville High School on Staten Island because, "I'd rather know she's safe in the house rather than traveling in the streets that are not safe."
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña startled those attending the news conference with de Blasio when she said: "It is absolutely a beautiful day out there right now."
The storm had paused. But later, her office emailed reporters that a town-hall meeting Fariña planned to attend was canceled "due to inclement weather."
De Blasio said that on Wednesday night the National Weather Service had predicted as few as three inches by the morning rush hour, when children would be going to school, or "four or five or more." Some parts of the city had almost 10 inches by midmorning.
The mayor noted that the city has closed schools only 11 times for snow since 1978. The Department of Education said Thursday's attendance was 44.65 percent of the city's 1.1 million public school students.
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said that de Blasio and Fariña's decision was "a mistake."
"Having students, parents and staff traveling in these conditions was unwarranted," he said in a statement.
Public advocate Letitia James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, also said he got it wrong. "Closing schools is a very difficult and serious decision to make -- and I believe in this instance it was warranted," said Mark-Viverito.
De Blasio said one factor in making snow-day decisions is parents who have to work. Lizette Lacayo, 44, a medical assistant from Astoria, Queens, with a 4-year-old and 8-year-old, said the mayor was right. "For working parents, it's really, really a problem if you can't afford a full-time baby sitter," she said.
But Roker, also a public school parent, let loose on Twitter to strongly disagree.
"Talk about a bad prediction. Long range DiBlasio forecast: 1 term," Roker tweeted, misspelling de Blasio's name.
In another: "So now my daughter's NYC public school is being let out early . . . Is it worth putting kids' safety at risk?" He also tweeted that the National Weather Service forecast was "on the money" and "I could never run NYC, but I know when it's time to keep kids home from school."
With Sheila Anne Feeney,
Ivan Pereira and Dan Rivoli