Possibly Unpopular Opinion :: In Favor of School Closures for Weather

Monday, January 2nd was my kids’ first day back to school after the holidays. I work in a different district and was looking forward to a few days at home by myself before I had to return to my own school, but by Monday afternoon, news of potential inclement weather on Tuesday has spread, and conversations about school closures had begun. They are the same conversations every time. Parents express frustration that the schools wait until the last minute to make decisions about the closures. Others argue that they can’t keep taking off work for school closures, especially when, so often, nothing actually happens. And the “in my day” crowd always comes through with the argument that they always just went to school anyway, likely uphill both ways, and always managed to survive.

The general attitude seems to be that, by closing schools for “potential” inclement weather, schools are inconveniencing parents who rely on the schools for childcare.

Ultimately, the schools chose not to close on Tuesday, and the inclement weather never manifested, so I can understand the arguments for why the schools should not have closed, but I’ve also been inside the schools when the decision not to close the schools was the wrong decision. The last time the schools chose not to close, my own children had to shelter in place at their schools while I monitored my students during an early dismissal: a dismissal that occurred as the bad weather rolled in.

Essentially, since the schools did not make the decision to close for the day, everyone suddenly had to react immediately. Parents had to leave work to pick up their kids or to get home in time to meet their buses. Bus drivers suddenly became responsible for safely transporting 40-plus students home through wind, rain, and, often, flooding streets. Teachers couldn’t leave to pick their own kids up and get safely home until students were safely out of the building, and some administrators had to stay behind with students whose parents couldn’t get to the schools quickly.  Early dismissals put a lot more people on the road in bad weather than would ordinarily be on the road at that time. The last-minute change to get students “home safe” ultimately put people in danger, and arguably, it would have been safer to keep the students in school at that point. Realistically, though, parents are going to pick their kids up in inclement weather, so even if the schools had not opted to change to early dismissal, lots of parents would have left work to pick up their kids, and the front office would have erupted in chaos. All of this could have been prevented simply by making the early decision to close schools.

To be clear, I’m not blaming the school systems for waiting until the last minute to make a decision or for making decisions I didn’t agree with.

They bear the unfortunate burden of facing criticism no matter what decision they make. We do, however, have a lot more tools available today to make that decision easier. First, we have the sheer advancement of weather technology. When the “in-my-day” crowd was in school, the weather was harder to predict. Often, this crew went to school anyway because their parents and the school systems were none the wiser. And even if the school system were aware of impending weather, it was more difficult to get the word out fast. The weather forecasts may still not always be perfect, but they’re certainly more accurate nowadays, which means people are more aware of potential threats, and modern technology makes it significantly easier to get the word out about closures. In the past, having to schedule make-up days was also a real concern, but post-pandemic, most school systems have the ability to switch to virtual learning at the drop of a hat.

Ultimately, there are really only two issues that seem to influence the decision to keep schools open: the fear that it will all be for naught and the issue of childcare. While sometimes the weather forecast is wrong or the storms fizzle out, I think that “better safe than sorry” is a motto worth following in such situations. And without getting on my soap box about how public education is not just childcare, I’ll just suggest that if schools are truly expected to solve all of society’s problems, they are grossly underfunded. Parents should be able to prioritize the safety of their children without fearing consequences at their jobs.

I’m not saying that schools should be closed for every storm, and I recognize that there will still be times when unexpected bad weather pops up, but when forecasts are predicting flooding and tornados, I think keeping children safe at home is always the best decision.

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


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