New York City public schools will hold classes remotely on Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams announced on social media, as the metro area braces for what could be its biggest snowfall in more than two years.
A winter storm is likely to cover parts of the Northeast Monday night into Tuesday, bringing up to two inches of snow per hour in some areas. Five to eight inches are expected in New York City and Long Island, and could significantly disrupt the morning commute.
Since schools closed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and moved to remote classes, many districts, including New York, the country's largest, have planned to forego the tradition of canceling classes in response to heavy snowfall. So on Tuesday, more than 900,000 city students will switch to virtual learning in the system's first experiment with a remote snow day since schools fully reopened.
“Our children must learn,” Mayor Adams said at a press conference Monday, when asked about students wanting the day off. “They were left behind. We need to catch up. “That’s what we need to focus on.”
The decision to hold classes online was announced shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, several hours before snow is expected to begin falling in the city. Mayor Adams has previously faced intense criticism for slow communication ahead of inclement weather.
During a major storm in September, the administration's decision to keep schools open came under fire after about 150 schools were flooded and one was evacuated. Many students arrived to their first period classes soaked and were taken to the upper floors to avoid flooding. Mayor Adams at the time defended the decision to keep schools open.
The school system previously held remote classes for some older students in June, when wildfire smoke deteriorated air quality. But most of the children were already planning to go out.
On Tuesday, snow will offer an important test of the system's readiness for virtual learning in the wake of the pandemic.
Schools Chancellor David C. Banks said Monday that he believes the system “is more than prepared” for the transition. The city purchased more than 700,000 iPads and laptops for students at the beginning of the pandemic. In recent months, families had been asked to practice logging in remotely.
Still, New York schools now educate more than 35,000 migrant students who have never learned remotely in the city, plus many other vulnerable children who may not have reliable internet service.
“Any time you deal with technology in a system this size, there are always glitches,” Banks said. “We want to minimize those failures.” He added: “We will evaluate our effectiveness every step of the way.”
The decision to keep schools open (or close them) inevitably attracts criticism and praise. There were only 11 snow days between 1978 and 2013. But Mayor Bill de Blasio called off school for snow seven times in his first five years in office.
Rita Joseph, who heads the City Council's education committee, said in a statement that she appreciated the advance notice. “We must ensure that our students and educators can have a fruitful remote day without lapses,” Ms. Joseph said.
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