1000 WORDS

This 12-year-old filmmaker uncovered why New York City schools never have snow days

S’no day off school.
S’no day off school.
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
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Welcome to another winter in New York City. As a seventh grader attending public school here, there has always been something that bothered me. Even though our area will probably be pounded by snow, it is likely that our Mayor and Schools Chancellor will keep schools open. In fact, since 1978, the City has only closed public schools 11 times. This past winter, we had one bad storm after another, but schools were never closed. This did not make sense to me and I wondered how the City made these decisions. Since I couldn’t find any clear information on the internet, I decided to investigate the issue myself. Now, after working all year on the project, my documentary film, “Anatomy of a Snow Day,” will be premiering here in New York City this week.

To figure out why the schools rarely close, I started out by writing letters to the agencies responsible for managing weather emergencies. I contacted the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Education, the Department of Sanitation, and the Office of Emergency Management. I asked if anybody would let me interview them on camera for my film. At first, there was no response. Maybe they didn’t take me seriously because, to them, I was probably just some crazy 12-year-old kid. But I was not discouraged. I wrote more letters and also started sending emails. I started calling their press offices. I looked up the names of people that worked at the agencies and started writing to them individually. Some officials were even on Twitter and I used that as a way to contact them. Eventually, I started hearing back. I guess I finally started reaching the right people or maybe they just got sick of me.

When I finally sat down and got to talk with the people in charge, I began to realize how hard of a job they have when dealing with a winter storm. I learned that the City has to consider a lot of things before they close schools. First, they must look at the actual conditions outside, like the type of precipitation, amount of accumulation, and the wind chill factor. They also have to monitor the conditions of streets and roads to assure kids can get to and from school safely. A lot of kids here in New York City use public transit systems to get to school (like buses and trains). So those need to be running smoothly as well.

But the hardest part in all of this is predicting how the conditions might change over the course of the day. Even if kids can get to school fine in the morning, they may not be able to make it home safely later in the day. Weather can be very unpredictable so they are forced to make this decision based on imperfect and incomplete information. No matter what, there will always be some disagreement on the situation and the people in charge are going to be criticized for whatever decision they make. I guess criticism is just part of the job for a city official.

The most important thing I want families to understand is that there are real people out there trying their best to make sure everything runs smoothly and they work so hard to keep us safe. We may disagree sometimes with the decisions they make, but they really do have the best interest of kids and families in mind.

And it turns out the biggest reason why there are so few snow days in New York City is that changing schedules for thousands of workers and parents can sometimes be harder than just dealing with the snow.  Unless the conditions are really dangerous, it’s just too complicated to change the routine of 1.1 million students and their parents, overnight.  We are New Yorkers, after all.  A little bit of bad weather isn’t going to stop us.

I also want kids to see that they shouldn’t be afraid to question adults when something is bothering them. Instead of just sitting back and complaining, kids should get involved, stir up some trouble, and seek out the answers themselves.