New York City

De Blasio defends decision to keeps schools open, lauds Sanitation Dept, in sixth snow in six weeks

Meetings and hearings canceled

February 13, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the “herculean” efforts of the city’s Sanitation Department and first responders in a storm update on Thursday, and defended his decision to keep New York City public schools open during the city’s sixth winter storm in six weeks.

Many parents and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew had called the mayor’s decision to keep schools open a mistake. While Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge Republicans lost no time denouncing the Mayor, Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat, also said the criteria for closing schools needed to be “re-examined.”

As city neighborhoods were blanketed under what was projected to be 10 to 14 inches of ice and snow, Mayor de Blasio said that Sanitation Commissioner John  Doherty had mobilized 475 salt spreaders and employed 1,900 snowploughs and 800 emergency snow laborers, who cleared catch basins, bus stops and fire hydrants throughout the day.

On Wednesday, the Mayor had announced that he was boosting the Sanitation budget in the face of this season’s unusual back-to-back winter storms.

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Speaking to reporters from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in Downtown Brooklyn, the Mayor urged commuters to take mass transit to allow Sanitation to replough streets.

The Department of Transportation sent out 17 crews to clear pedestrian overpasses of snow and ice, and a “tow truck task force” removed disabled vehicles from the streets. EMS put 160 additional ambulances out on the street, the Mayor said. The city also initiated a “Code Blue” homeless outreach effort.

But de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina faced a barrage of questions from reporters about their decision to keep public schools open on Thursday.

The Mayor told reporters that the snow “arrived earlier and fell faster than predicted by the National Weather Service.” Predictions called for “as little as three inches of snow” at the start of school, de Blasio said, along with warmer temperatures.

Many of the city’s 1.1 million public school kids depend on schools to provide a safe environment while their parents go to work, the Mayor said. “There are a number of parents for whom the consistency of school is a necessity, and many depend on a hot meal for their kids. As long as we know they can get there safely, we opt for that decision.”

Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said that next week’s school break also factored into the decision. “Many schools are preparing for next week’s vacation. If they take the day off, the kids will be regressing.”

But she said that she also was considering putting “a new protocol” in place so that parents would understand how the decision to close schools or keep them open is made. “We’ll try to be a little more transparent, bring people to the table.” While Thursday absences will not be excused, lateness will, she said.

Public Advocate Letitia James said in a statement that the criteria for closing schools needed to be re-examined.

“It is clear that a re-evaluation of the criteria for closing New York City schools is needed after today’s storm,” she said. “We must adjust the standards so that students, teachers, administrators, and parents are not put in harm’s way. 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.”

New York City does not take snow days lightly. Since 1978, city schools have only closed 11 times due to snow.

Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for New York City, Long Island and the mid-Hudson Valley on Thursday.

Garbage collection has been canceled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and there is no garbage pickup on Sunday or Monday, a federal holiday. Alternate side of the street parking is suspended during those times as well. Meter rules remain in effect, however.

Several civic and legal meetings and hearing were canceled or delayed:

* A hearing involving SUNY leaders accused of ignoring court orders to keep Long Island College Hospital open has been postponed until Tuesday, February 18 at 10 a.m.

* Civil Service and Labor Committee Hearing on the Expanded Earned Sick Time Legislation has been rescheduled for Friday, February 14t at 11 a.m. in  Council Chambers.

* The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings’ first oversight hearing of this session on vacant and abandoned properties across New York City has been postponed.

* An event recognising Google’s donations of tablets to public schools, with Secretary of State Cesar Perales and Partnership with Children Executive Director Margaret Crotty at P.S. 446 in Brooklyn is postponed.

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