NEW YORK CITY — New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office 44 days ago promising to bring together residents of a divided city, was widely vilified Thursday for keeping the nation’s largest school system open during a brutal storm expected to leave up to 14 inches of snow in some areas.
While millions of children in the region were given the day off, New York City public schools — with 1.1 million students — remained open, triggering an avalanche of anger from many students, parents and even one well-known weather anchor.
“It’s always a tough decision based on imperfect information,” de Blasio told reporters late Thursday morning.
On Friday, the jokes and jabs continued on social media. Some of them were laugh-out-loud funny. We’ve posted one sample here, but click on this link from our NYC sister station for more clever tweets and images.
De Blasio: “magic conch should I cancel school” pic.twitter.com/UlUer0JkZ5
— Eddie Adlman (@xTomatoez) February 13, 2014
The mayor said the National Weather Service reported as little as 3 inches of snow on the ground at the start of the school day, with warmer conditions than in previous storms. Since 1978, he said, New York City schools have closed due to snow just 11 times.
“At the time,” he said, “we thought our children would be able to get to school safely.”
On Thursday, attendance in city’s public schools was 44.65%.
Even NBC “Today” show weather anchor Al Roker laid into the mayor on Twitter from Sochi, Russia: “Mr. Mayor, I could never run NYC, but I know when it’s time to keep kids home from school.”
When asked at the news conference about Roker’s comments, De Blasio said: “It’s a different thing to run a city than to give the weather on TV,” he said amid laughter.
“How about all the parents and caregivers who have to scramble to get their kids home? Is there no one there with common sense?” Roker said in another Tweet. “It’s going to take some kid or kids getting hurt before this goofball policy gets changed.”
By midday, nearly 10 inches of snow had fallen in Manhattan’s Central Park, according to the National Weather Service.
“Are conditions perfect? No, they’re not,” de Blasio said, adding that basic services were functioning.
In 2013, more than 21 million children nationwide had free or reduced-price lunches, or roughly 70% of the total students who ate school lunches, according to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. More than 23 million households received SNAP benefits, known as food stamps, that same year.
“So many families depend on their schools as a place for their kids to be during the day, a safe place where they are not only taught, they get nutrition, and they are safe from the elements,” de Blasio said.
CNN’s Steve Kastenbaum contributed to this report.