This winter has been rough for Southwestern Pennsylvania. After quite a few mild winters we’ve seen a lot of frigid temperatures, snow, and frozen conditions. My son is now school-aged, so I understand how inconvenient it can be when districts call for closures and delays. I’m fortunate in that I can do my job from home and my employer is very understanding about these things. I know many people, my husband included, do not have this luxury. However, as inconvenient as it may be for you, perhaps we could look outside yourself and see that life is quite different for many families.
We had a cold snap at the beginning of January with temperatures in the low teens and single digits. It felt like weeks of daily delays and closings. I saw so many comments in the armpit-of-humanity that comprises news-story comments sections chastising districts because, “…kids these days are so coddled…in my day…”. Adjectives such as “pathetic” and “weak” were plentiful. I’m not sure how discouraging children from walking to school in single digit temperatures is coddling them considering those temperatures can literally kill.
You may be thinking, what’s the harm in a child walking a few blocks to school in the cold? But…what if it’s not just a few blocks? In our district, for example, some schools do not provide buses at all and in other cases, if the child lives less than 2 miles from the school, they are not provided a bus.
So, here’s the thing – my 5-year-old would potentially have had to walk 1.9 miles to school in single-digit temperatures. Can you think about that for a minute? Now imagine that I have a job that starts at 7am with no flexibility and rely on my older (yet still young) child to ready my 5-year-old. They both walk to school for a start-time of 9:05AM. Likely, I would have no parts of helping my children get ready and would need to hope against hope that they were bundled correctly. Can we think about children who do not have appropriate cold-weather gear? Now how about the children who are lucky to have someone at home to bundle them up – but their family is without transportation.
I should mention that there are families who greatly suffer due to a delay or closure. Our district provides free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of income. For families who need this assistance the most, having to provide 2 additional, unplanned, meals a day, per child can be a tremendous hardship. And I can’t even bring myself to discuss children who are far safer at school than they are at home…
Can we all just take a step back and recognize that these measures could literally save a child’s life? Do you really think that avoiding frostbite, hypothermia and death can compare to the perceived trauma of using an unplanned vacation day? I’ll answer for you, it’s a hard No. A saved vacation day is not worth more than any child’s well-being. Gentle Reminder: not every family has access to the same resources.