Sunday, January 15, 2017

Weather or Not

I saw a lot of angry Tweets yesterday from students and parents who missed out on a trip to NYC to see the Broadway production of Aladdin because of the school system's decision to cancel all Saturday activities. I can understand their frustration and disappointment. The weather they were experiencing seemed like nothing to cancel school over. They lost both money and an exciting and rewarding opportunity.

But canceling school or school activities is a slippery business. On extremely rare occasions everyone thinks you got it right. The rest of the time, some folks are angry that you closed, or some are angry that you stayed open. It is not an exact science and I would not want that job for a million dollars. My former father-in-law was an assistant superintendent for the Baltimore County Schools, and he gave me some insight into how difficult these decisions truly are.

I would imagine that the biggest goal is that no one gets hurt. In the case of ice, almost anything can happen once people get on the roads. What if one of the hired tour buses to New York skidded off the highway? Is it worth the risk if even one child was injured due to a weather-related accident? Then how would we feel about the decision to hold activities as scheduled?

Our children are precious. We don't want to risk their safety.

Several years ago there was a snow event that came on after the school day started. I frankly thought the schools should have closed early, but they may have missed the time window for making the announcement. I don't know. But I do know that a bus containing early childhood students was involved in a weather-related accident while bringing afternoon students to school. Some of them were special needs preschoolers,  I believe. Students I taught.

I was really upset when I thought of those children that I knew being in that frightening situation. I was indignant that the school system hadn't acted proactively to close schools or maybe to cancel afternoon classes in order to keep buses off the road while snow was so heavy. How could they have been so foolhardy with those precious lives?

But along with the ever-present need for safety is this:

On regular school days, M-F, we have the responsibility to provide instruction, make sure children are safe during the day, and provide food for those who need it. If we cancel school when it isn't truly necessary, we are falling down on meeting those needs. Deciding when to cancel school on account of the weather is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" proposition.

The truth is that there are so many variables that go into these decisions. Perhaps we should have parent representatives "shadow" the people making them in order to see the inner workings of the process. Seems like a way to provide greater transparency and it might even reduce complaints.

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