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Posted at 2:39 PM ET, 02/ 7/2010

Deciding to close schools isn’t always easy

By Valerie Strauss

How hard can it be to decide whether to close a school for bad weather?

To find out I called a household where the husband and wife both make the decisions for the two private D.C. schools they head--Georgetown Day School and Beauvoir, the National Cathedral elementary school.

There are factors that go into the decision that you might never consider.

On every “iffy” weather day, Beauvoir's Paula J. Carreiro said, she and her husband, GDS head Peter Branch, have an alarm wake them at 4:30 a.m. in their home in the District. They don’t talk but they do watch television to see the latest weather reports.

At about 5 a.m., Carreiro goes downstairs to have a conversation with the heads of the other two schools on the National Cathedral close: Vance Williams of St. Albans School for boys and Kathleen O'Neill Jamieson of National Cathedral School for girls.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Branch is calling the heads of the GDS lower, middle and upper schools, as well as other staff who live in different parts of the greater Washington region.

“It’s very hilarious… Some mornings it is a very interesting conversation between the three heads of the cathedral schools because of course we don’t always have the same opinion,” she said.

Sometimes, “there is some yelling upstairs, and I’ll ask, “Well, What are you thinking?”
“I always love it when I can say GDS is going to close,” Carreiro laughed.

But Carreiro and Branch don’t always wind up with the same decision.

Last Friday, for example, Beauvoir opened but closed at noon. GDS closed for the day.

GDS is a preK-12 school with two campuses in different parts of the District. At the GDS high school—and at high schools everywhere—a lot of teenagers drive themselves to class. There is a big difference between experienced adult drivers and kids who just learned how to drive tackling roads that may be slick with ice and snow.

Where teachers, bus drivers and other staff members live, too, is an issue.

“Parents are local but our teachers are not,” she said.

Another problem with closing schools early so that everybody can get home before bad weather hits is that, invariably, everybody DOESN’t get home in time.

Why? One big reason is that some parents do not come to pick up their children when they are supposed to get them. Every time.

“We have a handful of kids who wind up staying the whole day, and of course no adult at the school is going to leave them alone, Carreiro said.

The one thing everybody who makes a decision about school openings and closing knows is that it is “a lose-lose proposition,” she said.

Somebody is going to be unhappy—and a lot of people will make that unhappiness known.

Today, GDS and the cathedral schools decided early to close schools for tomorrow, as did most public school systems in the greater Washington area. Northern Virginia Community College closed for tomorrow too. In fact Montgomery County Public Schools and Loudoun County Public Schools already bowed to the inevitable and closed for Tuesday too.

(Here's our full, and continuously updated list of school closures, delays and early dismissals).

But as of mid-afternoon today, D.C. Public Schools had not issued a decision about what to do tomorrow. Either had the U.S. federal government. What's taking them so long?

If there is any significant snow on Tuesday night, as some forecasters are predicting, Wednesday could be shot. Let's not go to Thursday and Friday for the moment.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 7, 2010; 2:39 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools, Private Schools  | Tags:  closing schools  
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Comments

I just received a text message via ALERTDC...DC Schools will be opening 2 hours late tomorrow. I can't understand that decision--free breakfast and lunch arguments aside--the residential areas have not been completely cleared. If teachers can not make it to their schools safely, and we already know that MANY students will not come to school, then the "instructional time" is also moot. Since the District has already budgeted for two snow days, they should have taken one tomorrow.

Posted by: JustUs5 | February 7, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I teach in DC and probably won't be able to get in (unplowed street, buses running almost not at all, Metro may not be running above ground).

I just hope parents keep their kids home if their streets haven't been plowed and it is not safe.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | February 7, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

As of right now, even the federal government is closed tomorrow, but DCPS has a 2 hour delay. My neighborhood in DC hasn't yet been plowed, and when I went running today only 2 streets were barely tolerating 2-way traffic. Many kids at my school bus in. How are they supposed to get to school?

The note on the DCPS website says this:

"NOTE: At DCPS, it is our job to keep schools open and operating so that our children can keep on learning. The city has worked hard to clear school areas and sidewalks in order to make this possible. Parents, however, make the ultimate decision about sending a child to school. If you are concerned about the aftermath of the storm, and choose not to send your child to school tomorrow, we will work with schools to ensure that students are not penalized for this absence."

We're going to have half our kids, which means we can't actually teach anything new without having to re-do it the next day. (And, unfortunately, many of the kids likely to stay home are the ones who would most be in need of a "remediation day," if that's what DCPS teachers decide to do tomorrow.) Just close schools until roads and sidewalks are clear and parents can be assured that their children can safely get to school. If we use snow days, let's scrap some of the (so far useless) PD days DCPS has scheduled.

Posted by: uva007 | February 7, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Vance Wilson is the headmaster of St. Albans, not Vance Williams...

Posted by: willis9000 | February 7, 2010 11:29 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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