Because I’m from the ’80s, I appreciate irony, and so I appreciated the irony of two days of school closings followed by a scheduled early dismissal followed by an unscheduled early dismissal in the Platteville School District last week.
That is not a criticism, by the way. The regularly scheduled early dismissals are the result of the increasing blizzard of federal and state educational mandates and how to meet them, and every school district has them one way or another. (Some school districts have late starts or early dismissals one day a week all school year.) And every Platteville parent appreciates the existence of the PHS Scholarship Fund and the need for its monthly fundraiser movies at the Avalon and Millennium theaters. (Why someone would want to see “Frozen” this winter is beyond me, but your mileage may vary.)
Unscheduled school closings are an issue in part because state law (Chapter 121.02(f), for those who want to check) requires not merely that students attend school (1) 180 days per school year (with five for parent–teacher conferences and snow days), but (2) 437 hours for kindergartners, 1.050 hours for first- through sixth-graders, and 1,137 hours for seventh- through 12th-graders, per school year. The Department of Public Instruction’s website recommends that school districts schedule the 437, 1,050 and 1,137 hours within the 175 days so that some snow days don’t have to be made up, but as Wisconsinites know Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate with our plans.
(I had thought the DPI set school hours, and was going to write something here about micromanaging by bureaucrats. That would be inaccurate in this case, though, because the micromanaging was by the Legislature, the same people that, for better or worse, mandate that schools open after Sept. 1.)
I think it’s safe to say that weather-related school closings are more numerous than in the past (for reasons that have nothing to do with our supposedly more extreme weather) and more disruptive than in the past. (And if you thought two in one week was bad, consider that some school districts farther north canceled school three days last week.) I’m from Madison, where a clichéd snowy morning would include, announced on radio and TV, school closings for every surrounding school district, but not Madison. That was because Madison school administrators were sadists … I mean, didn’t have bus fleets going through rural areas that were the last to get snow removal. (Or hilly terrain, which as you know starts west of Madison.)
An area school district administrator told me 25 years ago that schools in this area made closing decisions due to liability concerns. Imagine what happens, beyond the obvious, when a school bus full of children gets into a crash in which weather is an issue. Whether you blame lawyers or insurance companies, that’s reality.
School closings are more disruptive for reasons unrelated to the schools. Two-earner families and single-parent families mean no parent is home during the day, and increasingly people work in communities away from where they live. Futurists’ predictions notwithstanding, most jobs still cannot be done at home, and some will never be able to be done at home. (Ask the employees of plumbing and heating businesses this month.) And given how many teachers live outside the school district they work in, that’s a consideration too given that every teacher who can’t get to school needs a substitute, who gets paid too.
So school is called off, and parents have to make unexpected child care arrangements of some sort, or at least check in to make sure their kids aren’t trying to burn down the house while they’re at work. (Having food in the house and a working Internet connection goes without saying because that applies to every other day of the year.) That is the case regardless of which option is taken — starting school late, closing school early, or canceling school all day. (I once lived in a school district, not in this area, where, despite classes being canceled all around them, classes went on until they were canceled at noon. That school district then had a two-hour delay the next morning, unlike school districts around them. For some inexplicable reason, the school board and newspaper agreed with the superintendent’s decision. He, and they, were wrong.)
So far since we’ve lived in Platteville, school in Platteville (and, with one exception, all the surrounding school districts) has been canceled or ended early because of, in chronological order, snow in December 2012, excessive heat in September, ice in December (canceling classes the day before winter vacation for the second consecutive year), and cold in January. I wrote last week that flood-related school closings were possible, but a flood of that size would indicate more pressing concerns than whether schools could stay open. (See chapter 6 of Genesis.) The Wausau school district ended classes one June day in 2007 because of a forecasted major tornado outbreak. The outbreak didn’t really occur unless you lived in Marinette and Oconto counties, which had an F5 tornado that day.
Regarding the excessive heat early dismissal, someone said that was the result of schools in this area not having air conditioning. (My prediction is that any future Platteville school building project will include air conditioning in buildings and areas of buildings now without air.) As great a development as air conditioning is, there are still a lot of homes, and even some businesses, that don’t have air conditioning. Some of those building owners may be unwilling to have their own tax dollars used to fund something they cannot afford for themselves.
You are reading this issue of your favorite weekly newspaper in mid-January. Consider this: School has been out for weather for three days and a couple hours, and winter isn’t even half-over yet. Keep your refrigerator stocked.