Schools were open Friday, even as mother nature dumped snow on top of all the other challenges they've navigated this first week back from winter break.

"When you close down these buildings, you are closing down hope, opportunities,” Mayor Eric Adams said.

What You Need To Know

  • The snowfall came at a time when both student and staff attendance was already low

  • In some schools, classes were combined in auditoriums due to a shortage of substitute teachers

  • But Mayor Adams says schools need to remain open for the children who need them most

The snowfall came at a time when schools across the city were already dealing with many teacher absences due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant, Schools Chancellor David Banks noted.

"I don't think the snow was really the biggest issue — the biggest issue was we were already in the middle of this surge and staffing has already been a challenge,” Banks said. “But we talked to principals all around the city, we talked to the unions as well, we tried to get everyone's perspective."

As the number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff has climbed sharply all week, student attendance has been low — hovering around 72% before Friday. The snow pushed that number down on Friday to 44.5%.

"Let's say we're at 50%,” Adams said, speaking before the attendance count was available. “Those are fifty-percenters who had no other choice. Their mom and dad had to go to work. They didn't havce a meal at home. They are in a place where they feel unsafe." 

The Staten Island elementary school Adams visited had enough staff to cover all its classes, but that wasn't the case everywhere — at some schools, classes were combined and children were sent to auditoriums or gyms where one teacher could supervise a larger group of them, due to a shortage of substitutes.

Teacher Arthur Goldstein said at least 160 staffers were absent at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, one of the city's largest schools. He was on his way in from Long Island when he had a car accident.

"I just lost control of my car, just started to slide and I was headed right into a lamppost, which I hit,” he said.

Goldstein was OK, but he turned around and went home. He says he hated teaching remotely last year — but that the city shouldn’t have risked people's safety, especially when low student and staff attendance will make for little learning for those who do attend school, with nothing at all offered for the kids who stay home.

"I know there's not a lot of learning going on. And it's hard for me to understand why remote wouldn't be better than that. It's hard for me to understand why remote wouldn't be better than nothing, which is what a lot of kids in New York City are getting today."

Many of the city's Catholic schools opted for neither in person nor remote learning, and had a good old fashioned snow day.