Welcome to winter in Miami County, that glorious time of year when schoolchildren become expert meteorologists and our school superintendents become experts in … well, not much of anything, if I were to believe what I read on my social media feeds these days.
I have to imagine that it’s never particularly easy being a school superintendent — but it has to be particularly difficult during the winter months, when seemingly every decision you make about whether to delay, cancel or open schools the minute the first flurry falls from the sky is the wrong decision and bound to ruin someone’s life.
From the kids’ point of view, the school superintendent’s job is a pretty binary affair — close school and you are a hero; keep school open and you may as well be replacing all the cafeteria food with liver and shards of glass.
Pleasing the parents seems to be a far more difficult proposition.
There are, to put it succinctly, no right answers.
Should a superintendent choose to close school, there are parents out there — many of whom work during the day and will be left scrambling to find suitable child care — who will wonder exactly why they would choose to cancel school just because “there is a little bit of snow on the roads” or “it’s a little cold outside.”
Bear in mind, most of these parents never once experienced a snow day in their lives because even if there were 500 trillion metric tons of snow on the ground and the temperature was absolute zero on the Kelvin scale, they were going to school “back in the day.” They were also walking, barefoot, uphill in both directions. If they could handle it, today’s kids should be able to handle it.
Of course, “back in their day,” lead-based paint and cars without seat belts also seemed like pretty reasonable ideas. Just because society did something wrong 30 years ago doesn’t mean we should keep making those same mistakes over and over again.
On the other hand, there are parents who think just because there is a little snow on the ground and a little chill in the air, school should automatically be canceled. Heck, I’ve seen parents on my Facebook page who think school should be canceled because it’s raining too hard, it’s too warm or there’s a little too much pollen in the air. As near as I can tell, these people should probably go ahead and home-school their children, preferably in a hermetically sealed plastic bubble.
Both of these groups of parents expect the superintendent to be able to make a decision that is going to appease them. Apparently, they think education works like a fast food restaurant and they can order up snow days — or not order up snow days — as they please. They want their child’s schedule made-to-order, preferably with a little cup of ranch dressing on the side.
And, of course, there’s also the possibility of a two-hour delay, which seems to make everyone mad, regardless of how much sense it makes from a logistical point of view.
Let’s not also forget that even if the superintendent makes a decision that everyone can agree with, there’s still the possibility he or she can deliver the decision at the wrong time of day. Making the call the night before can be too early for some, making it the next morning is too late for others.
I get it — people value the safety of their children (as they should) and they also value their precious time. Living in a household in which both parents work, it’s not always easy on us and we, too, sometimes grumble about the way things work out with snow days and how it impacts our daily lives.
But I think, deep down, we get it. We understand that our school superintendent — and all the other superintendents around Miami County — have difficult jobs to do … and believe it or not, my kid and my schedule aren’t the only things they have to take into consideration.
Every time there is inclement weather, superintendents have to make a decision that is going to impact thousands of lives. They have to consider the children who ride the bus to school, the ones who walk to school and the ones who are old enough to drive themselves to school.
They also have to consider the hundreds of employees within the district, from the principals and teachers to the cafeteria staff and bus drivers.
Frequently, they are forced to make these decisions while considering the same weather reports we all receive — which, as anyone who has lived in Ohio for any length of time knows, have never been 100 percent accurate. They have to consider not only what is happening, but what could be happening in a few hours.
Certainly, student safety comes first — but that’s a pretty subjective term sometimes. What some may think is “safe” for one student, may not actually be “safe” for another. This isn’t a “one size fits all” proposition.
Basically, they have to peer into a meteorological crystal ball and make their call … one that seemingly is bound to upset roughly half of the people living within their district.
Well, half of the parents, anyway. Pleasing the kids is easy: just start summer break now.
Troy’s David Fong is a writer for AIM Media Midwest and the Miami Valley Today. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong