Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Snow Days

You’d have to be living under a rock (or not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) to not know about the snow on the East Coast right now. Aside from the many pictures of snow-covered everything all over social media right now, there are many snippets of conversations that turn into long threads about the issue over the missed days of school. Because this is my blog, and because I can, I’m going to offer my opinion on this, and I will be speaking (with authority) as:
·         a parent
·         a single parent
·         a parent who works outside of the home
·         a parent of an only child*
·         a parent of a young child not old enough to stay home by herself
·         a parent who works at home**; and
·         a school bus driver.
*I have two children that are eleven years apart. My older daughter is 21, with a job and her own life and not home much anymore. Basically, each one grew up as a single child.
**I’ve been a single parent for most of each of my daughter’s elementary school years, working outside of the home (first in an office and then as a bus driver) until last year. This is my first winter as a work-at-home parent.

Snow days are a hassle from the get-go. Just the snow itself can be a big pain in the ass. As soon as it’s realized that the snow may be substantial enough to interfere with school, parents of young children go into overdrive trying to figure out what they are going to do with their kids when they go to work, because most of us have to still work. For single parents this can be excruciating, because sometimes you have to make that choice between work and your kids—and you know what you have to choose. Either way, there is worry and guilt (and a potential loss of pay). We are all over the internet and television, wanting to find out what our city’s decision will be—needing to find out as soon as possible so we know what arrangements we will have to make. We may cheer when our kid’s school finally cancels--but that is not because we are happy about it; we are happy that we know so that we can make our plans. Our bosses don’t like getting calls right before work saying we can’t come in—but if the schools wait that long to tell us, sometimes we have no other option.

As a parent who now works from home, I am grateful that I don’t have to go through that frustration every snow day anymore. But I do still have to work, and it is much harder when the kids are home. And (especially over multiple snow days) when you have an only child at home and you have to work in your bedroom office with the door shut to block out the noise of the TV, you feel guilty for feeling like you’ve shut the child out (parent guilt is always fun). If you live in an apartment with no back yard, your kid cannot go play outside unless you stop work to take them out. Same choice: kid or work; same guilt.

This was our third consecutive week with snow storms and multiple snow days (and we are looking at another storm the day after tomorrow). After the first week with my daughter being home on my two busiest work days, I made sure to have a friend snowed in with us for the last two storms so she wouldn’t be alone the whole time and I could work a little easier.

So, snow days are a huge pain in the ass. I really do hate them.

However, when it comes to schools closing:

In spite of the way snow days really interfere with my schedule, I would rather them close. I guess that’s the bottom line, but I will explain further.

I absolutely hate how long we have to wait to find out whether or not school is cancelled (and, believe it or not, bus drivers don’t always get notified first). And I understand why we wait. The schools don’t want to make the wrong decision and then worry about losing the “allowed” snow days they have and have to worry about extending the school year in June. I have to admit, I think there is a little anal over-concern about getting in exactly 180 days. But that’s my opinion.

We live in an area that is known to have weather conditions like this—not every single year, but it’s not so uncommon that we don’t know we have to make arrangements for them (hence, the “allowed snow days”). Yes, sometimes the school systems make what seems to have been a ‘bad call’ occasionally that has cancelled school when it didn’t turn out to be necessary (hindsight, anyone?), but that shouldn’t affect them from making a ‘right’ call on another occasion—but it does because of the worry of losing those days, which is a damn shame. I drove a school bus route regularly for eleven years, and vividly remember driving on days we shouldn’t have been. And I thank the Universe that those days didn’t get really ugly.

The schools shouldn’t have to be under the pressure they are to not ‘waste’ those days we have allotted for special circumstances. There is really no such thing as a ‘bad call’ when it comes to cancelling school because no one—not even our meteorologists—can accurately predict the weather (although that has changed significantly for the better since 1978). Cancelling school because of bad weather (even predicted bad weather) is a matter of safety. For everyone. Everyone who lives near anyone going to or from school anywhere; drivers on the roads during bus routes, drivers who encounter school busses or school children in their paths.

People who drive mostly highways to work and notice how well-plowed the highways are often make snide comments about the roads being “fine” and “why aren’t the kids in school? This isn’t bad!” first have to realize that bus routes don’t normally drive highways; they are driving the roads that may not be cleared as well.
·         Side streets never get the attention that the main roads get first and the busses are all over those side streets.
·         Busses are also rather large, and do not bend in the middle; making turns on corners onto streets that haven’t been plowed wide enough is a lot harder than you making the turn in your baby SUV.
·         When snow is piled high on the corners it affects visibility all the way around, and a bus driver cannot always see if there is even room to make the turn.
·         Those unplowed or less-plowed side streets also mean that coming to a stop might end up meaning a permanent stop when the bus gets stuck with its wheels spinning (but school busses don’t stop a lot, do they?).
·         Too much snow prevents kids from having a safe (and visible to other drivers) place to wait for their busses.
·         When school busses leave in the morning this time of year, it can be a little darker in the mornings, interfering with visibility. Black ice is almost completely invisible in the dark, isn’t it?
·         When all of the sidewalks aren’t plowed, kids have nowhere to walk except the not-wide-enough streets. They interfere with regular traffic. This puts more cars on the roads when parents have to drive them.

--I have to interrupt here with a pet peeve. To all the joggers out there: is it really that necessary for you to be out on the streets jogging under these conditions? Shouldn’t vehicles have first dibs on the streets? You have other options for exercise. Cars have a hard enough time passing you on the street when there’s snow everywhere. Busses and large trucks have it even worse; if we have no room to allow for the required 6-foot distance between you and the vehicle when passing you, we are forced to follow you. Please be fair and stay off the roads.

The whole idea of calling a snow day (or bad weather day) in advance is safety. We try to teach our kids to err on the side of caution, yet we blow that out the window by how we show that what appears to be more important than the potential safety of people is the 180 days of school rule, or not having to extend the school year. It is only an inconvenience to extend the school year, and one that doesn’t put anyone at risk. Sure, driving a full (especially if you know our town), un-air-conditioned school bus with 70+ hot students sucks, but it is a lot more fun than driving 70+ students in full winter gear (not high school kids, though; fashion always wins over weather), carrying instruments (we are fortunate enough to have a great music department) and book bags that are bigger than they are, while fish-tailing at every single stop (or not being able to make it down certain streets, or not being able to turn a corner, or not being able to see a child who isn’t where he or she should be). Which inconvenience is worse? Having to extend school in June, or having an accident in the winter? If we really want our kids to learn that safety is more important than inconvenience, we have to show them. All it takes is one nasty accident to make a difference, right?

Which one of you wants to make the sacrifice to make that difference?

I have a suggestion: Teachers plan their curriculum ahead of time, right? (And I don’t think this would over-tax the already sometimes under-appreciated teachers). Would it be possible that the schools could arrange some type of online program (or on-public-access-tv) that would allow the kids to stay home on the bad days and still get lessons, and/or even homework? If the curriculum is even roughly planned in advance, then there has to be an idea of what would be taught during the winter. Packets could be made up in advance and given out to the parents at the beginning of the year (or online information if printing is too expensive) that have lesson plans, that can be accessed on the days kids can’t go to school. Lessons can be videoed in advance; if you don’t use them one year, you can use them the next (and they can be used more than once). Schooling is about educating the kids, not just having them check in somewhere for 180 exact days. We should worry about the education, and not the actual in-school time. This would ease the school’s pressure of worrying about going over the amount of snow days, allowing them to make a judgment call based on safety. We say it’s better to err on the side of caution, but we don’t practice that. We should. And we should ease up on the pressure for the schools not to call snow days because of inconvenience.

My best friend Donna is a nurse (and it’s her daughter I usually ‘borrow’ during snowstorms). She is also a single mother whose schedule gets messed with on snow days, but her job is important. So many people have jobs that are really a matter of necessity, or life or death. The people who are responsible for snow removal of any kind, the electricians, the gas companies, the police, firemen, ambulance and tow-truck drivers, healthcare workers, transportation drivers—their workload doubles during this type of weather. The roads should be cleared for them first. When the schools have to make a decision to close or not close schools, these essential workers should be part of their consideration, including whether or not it may be a good idea to keep more people walking and driving out of their way.

I’m not saying we should be afraid of a ‘little’ snow; I’m saying that keeping our kids in school later in the year is not as important as some are making it out to be. We have more at our disposal in technology that we should be able to come up with acceptable alternatives when needed. The schools should be able to make a call without fear of reprisal if they make the ‘wrong’ one, and without that pressure they should be able to make it in a timelier manner, which will make any inconveniences a little less inconvenient.


And a shout out to you essential workers (and I’m sorry if I neglected to include anyone): THANK YOU!