Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Shame on VA Schools Closed Due to Cold Weather

Bah on the administrators of many Virginia school districts today, which are closed due to a little bit of cold air.  And congrats to the leaders of schools in DC and MD for showing some backbone by calling it a regular school day.

The facts:  school systems in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford Counties, among others, are closed today due to very cold weather.  Arlington and Alexandria schools opened two hours late.  Across the river, however, where it was a tad colder, DC school and Montgomery County schools opened on time. They made the right call--their Virginia counterparts should be ashamed.

Yes, it is cold today, with temperatures dropping to levels not seen in nearly 20 years.  But 20 years ago, this type of weather was not that uncommon--happened about every other winter, in January, and usually lasted several days.  And it did NOT result in closing schools.

School administrators are the biggest wimps in the world when it comes to weather.  And very shortsighted. Someone should point out to them that it costs a lot of money--many millions of dollars--to shut down schools.  Parents have to make alternative work arrangements, or miss work entirely, and the schools themselves incur huge costs in lost productivity.

Further, just because kids aren't in school doesn't mean they aren't potentially exposed to cold, or snow, or whatever reason the schools decided to shut down.  In many ways, the kids are probably less safe out of school than in school.

But let's look at today's decision.  In many other parts of the country, winter temperatures in the single digits are fairly common.  Yet, they cope.  All it takes is dressing sensibly, making sure to cover up exposed skin. Hats and gloves, a scarf, and an extra layer of clothing beyond what you'd wear on a morning with temps in the 20's (common around here) is all that is needed.  Of course, you don't STAY outside for long periods of time.  A little common sense goes a long way.

So, if schools in other parts of our country, including big east coast cities like Philly, NYC and Boston, can regularly deal with this level of cold, and if DC area schools could regularly deal with this 20 years ago without closing, why the big panic today?

Part of it is media hype.  Nothing is more over hyped than the weather, because it sells newspapers, blogs and local television news.  Around here, it is common for television newscasters and weather blogs such as the WaPo's Capital Weather Gang, to trumpet potential snow a week out based on some not particularly reliable weather model.  We haven't had an "official" snowstorm (as measured at Reagan National Airport) of more than 2" in three years here, yet the word "snow" comes up almost every day of winter in someone's "forecast."

School administrators need to learn to see through the hype.  Their working assumption should be that school will stay open unless it absolutely HAS to be closed--for example, if there is a blizzard.  A cold snap, or 2-4 inches of snow, should not be enough to waste millions of dollars.


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