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Send This Boy to School

Published in ChicagoNow, January 30, 2014

The guy in the mask is my four-year-old grandson who “attends” preschool five half-days a week in Indiana. I use the term “attends” loosely because since winter vacation ended January 3, he has gone to school five times. That’s right, he had 14 “snow” days before returning to school yesterday.

I guess he’s lucky in some respects. Although his mother is a vet and animals keep getting sick, even (or especially) when it gets cold, he has a baby brother and thus a babysitter who lives close enough to drive to his home so my daughter can go to work. He may have had cabin fever, but at least he was safe.

What about all of the kids whose parents don’t have sitters? I’ve been wondering about the tough choices all of these school closings create for them. I doubt their employers give them paid snow days, so do they have to choose between non-paid time off work, the threat of losing their job, or leaving their kids home alone? For some children, school is their safe haven and the place where they receive two of their daily meals. Is anyone thinking about them?

I know from 25 years of personal experience as a preschool administrator how hard it is to make the decision to close school. Generally, we did it whenever our local public schools also closed. And that was almost always due to massive amounts of snow and ice making travel dangerous and parking impossible.

On days I kept the school open despite bad weather, mostly because our public schools almost never closed, teachers were surprised that people showed up – lots of them. Maybe these parents had older kids and were out anyhow. Maybe they had children with special needs for whom a break in the routine was a disaster. Maybe they walked, pulling their kids in sleds, veterans of Chicago-style winters. I made no judgments regarding their decision to come or about parents who opted to keep their children home.

At the risk of sounding like a 60’s liberal turned libertarian, I’m wondering if there isn’t another solution. How about opening the schools and (shocking thought) letting parents decide for themselves if they think their children are better off braving the cold weather or staying home? Children whose parents who are able to make safe arrangements to keep them home should get excused absences. My guess is that more than half of them will get their children to school.

On Monday, January 27, our schools were closed. There was no snow or ice on the roads. It was really cold but apparently not too cold for over 100 kids to get to our community center for open skating. Since they were able to get there, couldn’t they also have gotten to school?

Here’s a great polar vortex story. Dr. Snapp, the superintendent of Brownsburg, Indiana schools decided to open on Tuesday, January 28. He was deluged by tweets and Facebook posts decrying the decision. One parent asked, “How would you like to stand at the bus stop with my kids in this weather?” His answer was, “Sure, tell me when and where.” He showed up at her bus stop with shirts for the kids that said #Bulldogtough and waited with them for that bus. Bravo for literally taking a stand on this issue.

It appears a good chunk of the country will be caught up in these bad weather patterns for the rest of winter. Time to put on our warm clothes and spirit shirts and brave the elements to keep our schools open. I say, let the parents decide what’s best for their kids.

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by Laurie Levy
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