This winter’s weather has been unusually harsh, with frequent snowfalls and highs often reaching only the teens. With lows in the single digits and below — and wind chills even colder — local schools have been forced to close or delay the start of the school day several times.
Most kids love a snow day, a “cold day,” or two-hour delay, but for parents, these schedule changes can be inconvenient, requiring some juggling when they need to find care for kids at the last minute.
During the recent cold snaps, I was disheartened to hear a great deal of complaining from other parents. Why, they wanted to know, were schools delaying when there was no snow or ice? Do administrators not realize how much it inconveniences parents to make these changes? The amount of bellyaching was unmatched.
The day last month when school was canceled at 7 a.m. was understandably frustrating for parents whose children were already on buses or at school — getting their kids home proved chaotic for several families. The unfortunate timing and its side effects were what upset parents that day, not the cancelation itself.
That unusual occurrence aside, last-minute schedule changes can be inconvenient, but they are part and parcel of having kids in school; parents must have a plan (and at least one backup plan) for those days, particularly if their work schedule isn’t flexible.
But should such arctic weather continue, let’s please be mindful of a few things. One, many children in our area do not have proper winter clothing and accessories or even heavy coats because their parents cannot afford to purchase these items. While waiting at the bus stop — often in the pre-dawn hour when the temperatures are coldest — those kids are not wearing weather-appropriate attire. We take for granted that we can pile on gloves, hats, scarves and winter coats on frigid days, but not everyone is so fortunate.
On very cold mornings, many folks choose to drive their kids to school even if they normally walk or ride the bus, so they’ll spend less time outside. Alternatively, some parents drive their kids to the bus stop so they can wait in the warm car until the bus arrives.
But we must remember that such luxuries are not an option for many families — those kids must ride the bus or walk or they can’t get to school. “Just drive your kids to school” is not a solution to the cold no matter how many times northern transplants suggest it.
Teachers, too, can suffer from the extreme cold — they stand outside in the cold during bus duty or car-line shifts. In subzero temps, spending a half hour outside is not safe even with proper clothing, but kids can’t make it safely from bus or car into school without supervision from those dedicated teachers.
Thermostats in schools are often set on timers that drop the temperature at the end of the day and raise it early in the morning. An extra two hours can make a big difference in buildings being comfortable enough for kids to pay attention. A delay also gives maintenance workers an opportunity to ensure heating systems and water lines are functioning properly (and communicate any problems to the superintendent) before students arrive.
Buses often have trouble starting when the weather is very cold because their diesel fuel freezes easily. These are other practical reasons for delays.
When it comes to days with actual snowfall or ice, bear in mind the weather on one side of town may be quite different from the other side. One recent snow day, my part of town had a very light dusting of snow, while the opposite side had two inches of snow and icy neighborhood streets. Since the school system encompasses all of Johnson City, conditions across the city must be considered. Your front yard is usually not indicative of the entire city.
Administrators make difficult decisions with safety always the No. 1 priority; they endure criticism no matter what choices they make. They must consider the safety of all children — including ones who don’t have adequate clothing — and all employees.
Our superintendent and other administrators operate under tremendous stress and make difficult choices affecting thousands of families in our area — and they do an excellent job. Instead of complaining the next time school is delayed or closed, choose to be grateful you can keep your kids warm and have some compassion toward those less fortunate.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.