Why Parents Should Have Final Say About All Aspects of School Choice – Even the Weather

The first flake had yet to hit the ground on Thursday, February 9th when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a Snow Day and announced that all public schools would be closed. His premature reaction was likely a response to similar circumstances in 2014, when he chose to keep public schools open – and suffered massive criticism,

Regular readers of New York School Talk know that I disagree with the Mayor on many aspects of school policy.. But I agreed with him in 2014 when he said, “There are huge numbers of parents for whom the consistency of the school schedule is absolutely necessary. They are going to work, they have no choice. If they can’t get their kid to school, they don’t have another option.”

Three years later, it’s the Success Academy charter network facing condemnation for keeping their schools open. Chalkbeat quoted an anonymous teacher as saying, ““We have lots of families who have long or difficult commutes. There’s no point in having angry teachers teach unhappy kids.”

A Success Academy spokesperson countered, “All 41 Success Academy schools are open today. Our teachers and staff were there to welcome scholars for a day of learning; many of our families have limited or no childcare options and were grateful. We take the safety of our scholars very seriously and respect the decision of families that chose to keep their scholars at home.”

I am the mother of three children, two who had the day off on Thursday, and another who didn’t because his school is proud of the fact that it never closes. (A couple of years ago, it took us two hours to get to school; the bus literally got stuck crossing Central Park, so we had to get out and walk in knee deep snow!)

 The word that jumped out for me in the above statement was “decision.”

Success Academy families got to make their own decisions about what was best for their children. In 2014, the bulk of the protests came from parents who either had childcare or could stay home from work without penalty. Their objection was that if their child missed school, they would be marked absent, and this horrible blight on their record might keep them from getting into a top-notch middle-school/high-school/college.

One absence is unlikely to keep anyone from the Ivy League. Parents frequently make judgment calls about whether their child is too sick to go to school, or whether a family vacation or extracurricular activity is worth missing a day for. Why should weather by any different?

On the other hand, as both the mayor and the SA spokesperson pointed out, some families have nowhere else to send their child. Isn’t it better to err on the side of those who are in dire straits over those who have multiple options? And isn’t it better to let parents make the choice in both cases, instead of having it be made for them from up above by bureaucrats out of touch with what those on the ground truly need?

The anonymous teacher quoted by Chalkbeat talked about feeling “angry” at having to come in while the weather was foul and transportation uncertain. But who are schools there to benefit: teachers or students? I am often intrigued by the fact that every other union on earth is proud to stand up and say that they work for the benefit of their members. Teachers unions, on the other hand, insist that they work for the benefit of their “customers.” So what happens when the two interests diverge, like in the example above?

I selected my middle child’s school fully cognizant of their “We Never Close” policy. It’s one of the things I loved about it. It told me they were committed to the notion of education being a valuable thing worth suffering periodic hardships and soggy socks for.

When we talk about school choice, we tend to focus on academics, on rigor, on testing. But there are other issues in play as well. When we talk about school choice, we should be talking about absolutely everything that affects a child’s K-12 experience. And about leaving as many of those choices in the hands of parents (and later, yes, even the children) as possible.

What do you think?

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