[Another re-post from my Sidelines writing!]
I know this will spark some controversy among working parents and school administrators, and that’s OK.
This needs to be said: Schools should not stay open when snow and ice make driving conditions dangerous.
Keeping schools open endangers lives unnecessarily, forces teachers to teach to half-empty classrooms (which makes them have to repeat lessons and turns them into glorified babysitters), and clogs rush-hour traffic in the evening, made worse by black ice and overconfident drivers.
Here come the impassioned protests:
Number One: I don’t have a babysitter! This is a legitimate concern, so let’s tackle it. When your child reached school age, one of the first things on your checklist needed to have been deciding who would care for your child when school was out. Your possible options: Your spouse or significant other if his or her job is more enlightened or flexible, your retired parents or relatives (pay them), Before- and After-School Programs (each state has limited funds to help off-set the costs – check with your local social services office), neighborhood day care facilities, company child care (if you are so lucky), drop-in day care (still relatively new and untested, but available in some locations), or seriously, if everything else falls through, staying home with your child. I know that some employers are anti-human and will penalize or otherwise stigmatize you for being absent for this reason, but there needs to be more thought about that as well, with all of the technology around that allows for telecommuting like Skype, Google Docs, Learning Management Systems (LMS), and smart phone and tablet apps ad nauseum. Many larger employers are being proactive and building child care centers on certain floors of their buildings, but smaller ones cannot, so here’s where technology and communication could help, except of course for hands-on service industries like healthcare and the restaurant business. If you are afraid you’ll lose your job, then it is even more important you line up appropriate child care first, then perhaps to work on your skills to get away from employers who cannot understand that your child trumps your job. Maybe it’s time to consider a career change or working from home. Our children are most important.
Number Two: Many low-income kids eat their best meal of the day at school, so schools need to stay open even in sub-zero temperatures! Compare “Best-Meal-of-the-Day after making it through snow, ice, sniffles and asthma acting up, and possibly insufficient clothing choices in sub-zero temperatures at the bus stop with overconfident drivers sliding behind them” with “OK-Ramen-Noodle-Lunch in the safety and warmth of their home, Grandma’s house, or the day care two blocks away.” No contest. We need to be doing more about hunger in our community’s households, if that is our concern. (And it should be.) Just as we open some schools in the summer to feed families who need it, we can open a few buildings on snow days for cafeteria-only use or for food bank pick-up for qualified families, if that is what is making an administration keep a school open on a seriously snowy day.
Number Three: I used to walk a mile each way through waist-deep snow when I was a kid, so others can do it, too! And you hated it. Enough said. It may toughen them up and give them the expanded experiences that our “lily-livered kids” may require in order to build character, but there are other ways to do this. Like preparing sufficiently and taking them for an organized hike, or taking them skiing, or having them help distribute blankets and hot chili when the local church makes its well-planned rounds.
Number Four: They are missing out on learning! They can read a book (oh my gosh!) at the babysitter’s house, explore educational apps that reinforce skills on tablets and computers, participate in planned activities organized by day cares, and actually, their everyday teacher can sit at her or his laptop at home, cup of cocoa in hand, and hold class remotely using the same LMS system the virtual schools like Connections Academy and K12 use every day, for better or for worse. She can call and email all of her students and have them report to a computer, cup of cocoa in hand, with a microphone by, say, 10am, for a lesson in her LMS classroom, where they can talk, watch whiteboard lessons and learning videos, even get in trouble remotely for talking while the teacher’s talking. I’ve witnessed it. Technology makes it happen.
As I made my way to school today at negative-degree temperatures, riding with another teacher who lives close by, as we passed cars stranded on the side of the road and a school bus idling near an overpass, and as we ourselves slid into the neighboring lane on the way to school and thanked God no one was there for that particular moment, I checked off one more reason why schools should close on a day like this: We shouldn’t be risking our children’s lives or our own for something that can be accomplished on another day. A prettier, sunnier, less dangerous day.
Your opinions are welcome, too!