How School Closings and Snow Days Hurt our Kids
Looking out my back door this morning
Published in ChicagoNow, February 2, 2015
Today it makes sense to close school. Roads are unsafe and side streets are not cleared. Sidewalks are impassible. Despite the inconvenience, most parents would agree that their kids should not be on buses or trudging through mountains of un-shoveled snow to get to school. Too bad most school districts wasted two days last month on polar vortex school closings.
January 6 and 7, there was no school because it was cold. Granted, it was very cold. That’s why folks in our climate buy warm things for kids to wear. Before you hit the comment button to tell me I am insensitive to kids whose parents can’t afford warm winter clothing, let me share a story from last winter.
In Brownsburg, Indiana where one of my daughters is a vet, the motto for the high school is “Bulldog Tough.” Most kids depend on school buses to get to school. So when the superintendent was deluged with complaints for keeping school open on a very cold day last January, he told parents he would stand with their kids at the bus stop. Here’s the photo:
Check out how the girl to his left is dressed. I’m sure she has a winter coat, scarf, boots, hat, and gloves. But she would rather look cool and be cold. I get it. I also get that some kids do not have these things, but their teachers must know this before the harshest weather hits. It would not be hard to organize drives to outfit these children. In Evanston, the Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association helps, but individual schools could also make sure kids have warm things to wear.
Now for the problem of how to make up for today and any future days lost to bad winter weather. In Evanston, March 2 and June 5 are already added back to the calendar as attendance days to make up for those two polar vortex closings last month. So here are a few other ways they could make up for today and future days of instruction lost to school closings:
Don’t administer the PARCC exam. That will save kids in grades 3-8 a couple of days of lost instruction, as there are 10-12 hours of testing. I’ve written about this many times.
Stop teaching kids how to take this exam and just, well, teach. That would probably make up for countless hours of lost instruction. If educators really examined how much time they are devoting to preparing students to take an unfair and meaningless test, they could make up weeks of snow closing days.
I know this won’t “count” with the State of Illinois, but it would mean a lot to parents and students: How about making this Wednesday, February 4, as well as March 11 or May 6 full days of instruction instead of early dismissal for professional development? That gains an instructional day right there. It will be particularly tough on students to have the half-day this week, coming right on the heels of this snow day. By the way, working parents HATE these days. It’s really hard to scramble to cover that 12:00 to 3:30 time on the first Wednesday of most months. There has to be a better way to handle professional development without taking time away from children’s learning.
Now for the practical suggestions (and I know the Evanston teachers will hate me for this): There are still two days off that are coming up pretty soon – February 13 and 16. When I suggested having school on February 13 in an earlier blog, I was told my suggestion was unfair to teachers. This day off was compensation for teachers giving up the after school and evening hours for conferences on February 12. Perhaps some teachers hold conferences on February 13, but it is my understanding that most try to fit the conferences they don’t have on February 12 into before or after school hours earlier in the week. Yes, I get it. Parent-teacher conference week is stressful and takes extra non-class time for teachers. But unless I am wrong and teachers actually give conferences on this date, why not consider it?
My other suggestion is a no-brainer. There is no reason not to have school on February 16, which is Presidents’ Day, a holiday generally celebrated by going shopping. Yes, I know some families and teachers may have planned vacations for the 4-day weekend. To the families, go ahead and have fun. And to the teachers, subs can be hired. For the rest of us stuck here on this lovely 4-day weekend in February, let’s have school.
I know there are “snow days” built into the calendar at the end of June. One of these, June 5, has already been taken, but June 8 to11 are fair game. Here’s my reasoning regarding avoiding using these days unless all other possibilities have been exhausted.
Many camps and summer programs start June 8, so some families will send their kids to these activities (for which they have paid) rather than to school. Before you condemn them as bad parents, consider my second objection.
Extra June days are generally time wasters. It is likely teachers have packed up their materials and lesson plans for summer vacation. The time will probably be filled with games, field trips, movies, etc. Not that those are bad things. They just don’t count as made up instructional time in my book.
I’m assuming schools will reopen tomorrow, but Chicago winters are harsh. There are likely to be more polar vortex days. Hopefully, we won’t be socked with another huge snowstorm, but it could happen. So, I am asking the powers that be to consider this in creating the 2015-16 school calendar. How about scheduling fewer non-attendance days December through March? That way, when we lose some days to bad weather, the children will still have a reasonable number of attendance days in the winter.