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Climate preparation

New York Teacher

When record rainfall caused serious flooding in New York City on Sept. 29, city officials were caught off guard and then botched communication with schools about how to deal with it.

About 225,000 students citywide decided not to go to school that day. And more than 150 public school buildings, most of them located in known flood zones, experienced flooding, which put staff and students at risk.

Yet those schools received no guidance from Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David C. Banks until a midday press conference, when the chancellor called on schools to “shelter in place” — a directive that no one ever officially communicated to school leaders and was not appropriate guidance in all situations anyway.

To his credit, Banks later acknowledged, “We can do better.”

Since 2020, we have had the ability to quickly pivot to remote instruction. When severe weather is forecast, it’s wise to err on the side of safety. The city now has the option to proactively call a day of remote instruction in all schools if and when necessary or, when warranted, in the subset of schools likely to be most affected.

During a weather emergency, the Department of Education needs to communicate better with school staff and families, who want accurate information and guidance. School-based Building Response Teams also need training on how to address climate-related emergencies in their buildings.

Extreme weather caused by climate change will affect New York City schools with growing frequency in the future. The city must be better prepared for the inevitable next time.

Related Topics: School Safety