Strictly My Opinion

Why The School System Needs A ‘Snow Day’ Makeover

I awoke this morning, like many other parents in the Boston area, expecting 6 – 10 inches of snow in my driveway. There are perhaps four…if that.  My family was sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner last night at 6:30 pm when the call came in that school was being cancelled for today.

The kids, as kids do, rejoiced having another day off this week, on top of the day off Monday to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  They looked forward to mountains of snow to romp in with their friends when they got up today.  They’ll be lucky if there’s enough to make a decent snow dwarf, let alone a snow man.

This snow day comes on the heels of the first two school days of the calendar year also being cancelled due to snow…we did have ‘more’ on those two was a bit more ‘treacherous’ out there than it looks to be today…..but not the ‘apocalyptic nightmare’ that was predicted….either then or now.

When I was a working person the company that employed me did not offer MLK Jr.’s birthday as a paid holiday. If you took the day off you used either one of two personal days the company offered, or a vacation day.  The company, which more than 75% of the employees can perform their jobs for remotely (from home) did not, also, offer ‘work at home’ days for parents AND commuters alike.  Whether you travelled 5 or 50 miles to get to the office, you either came in or you took a day off from your personal/vacation days bank. This week, along with the two unscheduled days off January 2nd and 3rd, would have meant four full days of work being necessary to take off between January 1st and 22nd of the new year for me as a working parent.

In my childhood we woke at 4:30 in the morning on winter days where ‘inclement weather’ was predicted and sat down in front of the t.v. as soon as the news was on to watch the bottom of the screen ticker tape scroll of names for the schools that would not be open, praying to see our own school’s name in this Wall Street-esque NASDAC scroll of storm closings…..I’d sometimes watch it two, three times just to make certain there wasn’t some error and the school name was positioned out of alphabetical error, or added at the eleventh hour before I anticipated the arrival of the bus.

My mother, the custodial parent, likely prayed for school to be in session as hard as we prayed for it  to be out of session.  It’s a vastly different landscape when you have 2 or (if you are lucky) 3 weeks of vacation time allotted to you by your employer than the three months of summer and two additional weeks of vacation that school kids get.  If you have to use up all your vacation time for snow days, what’s the point of having kids on vacation at all, really?

That said….how realistic is our school administration being in relation to the working world of parents in the 21st century and their needs to cover all the vacation days, holidays, sick days, and storm days that our kids have? Gone is the era of ‘stay at home moms’ being the majority of the community. These days having both parents working is the norm.  Some families have one night shift worker parent and one day shift worker parent just to avoid the exorbitant cost of daycare, which isn’t really that much when you break it down hourly for a rate, but factored into a family budget each month, it’s a lot…especially for multiple children.  In most cases, it’s like making an additional mortgage payment each month to have childcare.

Ever since getting laid off, I have tried to come up with different scenarios in which I can earn a living (since unemployment won’t last forever) and contribute to the household finances but still avoid having to pay for childcare by being available to my kids and having to take unscheduled days off for storms/sick days/school holidays/vacations.  We can all have insurance through my spouse’s policy, thankfully, and no longer have to consider it as ‘income’ to me at tax time, so that is no longer a concern.  It does remain, however, that we cannot exist as a single-income family, even without childcare costs being a part of the equation.

In coming to this realization, I have to build into my search the school schedule and the needs of my kids for at least another five or six years until they are old enough to take care of themselves during the day (and even that estimate of the timeline involved is a stretch…a best case scenario).  In looking at potential employers, the list of items I need to consider before accepting a job, because I ‘choose’ to have children, has grown from ‘how much do they pay and what kind of insurance coverage do they offer and what is the environment like’ to many, many other considerations.

-How long is the commute from home in relation to sick days and time it would take me to get to the school to pick up one of the kids if they are sick, or if the school closes early for weather considerations?

-How flexible is the schedule for working parents on arrival/departure times?

-How many vacation days can I plan on simply to cover all the school holidays and snow days and MAYBE take a long weekend for myself during the year to recharge my batteries?

-How much leniency is there to work remotely on a snow day and not have to use a vacation day or a personal day?

-How flexible are they with the need to cover parent/teacher conferences each year and taking ‘hours’ off instead of entire days?

-How flexible are they with allowing a parent/caregiver to use a ‘sick day’ for someone they take care of/are parent to that is sick, rather than a vacation day?

This is just the ‘off the top of my head’ list of considerations for me.  It means a whole lot of research to be done on how a company considers the balance of work/personal life in relation to how they value their employees.  I understand that they have a business to run, and that is their top priority, but I know there has been some shift in the attitude of businesses in relation to their ’employees’ also being ‘people’ and ‘family members’ who have obligations outside of the office.  I estimate that my concerns and considerations are pretty much ‘the norm’ for the majority of working parents these days whereas most families do not have a ‘stay at home’ any longer.  I also do not have family members in the area to call on for ‘last minute’ things like sick days and snow days, unlike when I was a child and one of my aunts would show up in her curlers and head scarf and I’d go home with her for the day because Mom was working and my aunt worked at night (or not at all some times).

Speaking as a parent, I’m grateful that the safety of my children is important to the school administration.  Speaking as an ’employee’, to have to burn through an entire day for the LACK of snow that is on the ground as I used to have to, is beyond frustrating to see your vacation time dwindle or be depleted entirely throughout the first couple of months of the year for storm days as well as having to make arrangements for the school vacations coming up in February and April and explain to the kids that we aren’t actually ‘going anywhere’ as their time off does not mean their parents have the same time off.

It’s a changing world all around us, each and every day brings something new, something ‘re-imagined’, something ‘upgraded’, something ‘2.0’.  Having entered the realm of parenting eight years ago, and now having two school-aged children and a ‘two-fer’ on the amount of conferences, head colds that send them home, etc., that come with having children, I’m of the opinion that our school system needs a ‘makeover’ in their scheduling, or at the very least in their handling of storm days.  True, weather is not an ‘exact science’ – but having a storm day today in the Boston area, for three inches of snow, speaks to a need to re-evaluate how we determine what days are taken as storm days, and how quickly we pull the trigger on closing school for a day.  Though it is strictly my opinion, and I’m fortunate enough right at the moment to not HAVE to call out from work, eventually I will have to again. To look outside and see nowhere near the ‘Snowpocalypse’ that was predicted, I am of the opinion that this day off for the kids is nothing but a waste.


3 thoughts on “Why The School System Needs A ‘Snow Day’ Makeover

  1. Alison says:

    Possibly school was canceled for a lot of places because of the extreme cold, too? The kids who have to walk to school would have a tough time. Just a thought. Our town, along with Wayland, are usually the last two to cancel around here. They jumped on the cancellation bandwagon early. I’m sure our Superintendent is kicking himself this morning!

  2. I agree the cold probably factored into it, and I would love to know the ratio of students that walk to students that don’t….even in a small town like this. We have a ‘pay for rides’ bussing system ($150.00 per year) and you have to sign up for the entire year, so it’s not like you can just opt to hop on the bus randomly….but I also don’t recall school being called off in good old Gorham due to the ‘cold’…you just put on another layer…and either braved the walk, rode the bus, or your parents got you there ‘somehow’….;0)

  3. Oh, it’s a result of the stupid litiginous world we live in, where if one little kid slips and breaks a wrist because they had to walk to school on a snowy day, the town gets sued. I also remember pretty wicked winters in Rhode Island and very few snow days. But then, people took responsibility for themselves back then. Snow meant icy walks — so learn to walk on ice!!
    One way around this for you is to go into teaching, Brad. Then you all get pretty much the same time off. Besides, you’d be a really good teacher!!

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