Why snow days matter: Kids slept in schools because of late cancellation call


Traffic is snarled along I-285 north of the Atlanta metro area after a snowstorm Jan. 29. (David Tulis/AP)

Next time you think a school district is being overly cautious about cancelling school because of bad weather, remember this: Thousands of students in Georgia and Alabama were forced to spend the night  Tuesday in their schools — and some on buses — while their parents got stuck in traffic jams for more than 12 hours because a rare snowstorm dumped a few inches of snow.

Students trapped in schools watched movies, played games, ate and slept — some of them on gym mats — Tuesday night, cared for by teachers, staff and administrators. Some students who were on school buses Tuesday afternoon trying to get home were actually returned to their schools when the roads became blocks of ice when temperatures plummeted.

Georgia State Patrol troopers  were working Wednesday to get trapped students and motorists home while the National Guard tried to untangle traffic jams that left many parents stuck on impassable roads.

Parents were furious that school districts had not closed  Tuesday knowing that a storm was coming, and then decided to close early without giving parents much warning. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“They seriously miscalculated,” said Marcus Reed, who drove 90 minutes over five miles of side roads to fetch his eighth-grade son Payton and sixth-grade daughter Marlyn from Sandtown Middle School in Fulton County. “I know every school day is precious, but they shouldn’t have had school today.”

David Miles, principal of Louis Pizitz Middle School in Vestavia Hills, Ala., told ABC News that 20 students slept in the building — and had a great meal.

“Our lunch room manager happened to be one of the staff members stuck here and, singlehandedly, she put together a great hot meal for the kids. We took care of them and we rolled out the mats and have been showing them movies.”

School superintendents said that the weather forecast was not solid enough Tuesday morning to justify cancelling school, as they did earlier in January when temperatures fell and parents complained that their children should have been in class rather than at home. Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb County School District superintendent, was quoted by the Journal Constitution:

“The weather forecast was very iffy,” he said, noting that if they’d canceled school and it hadn’t snowed, people would have been angry, too. “There will always be second-guessing and disappointment with the decision.”

But according to CNN, forecasters had warned that a few inches of snow would likely fall in an area unaccustomed to snow.

Officials throughout the region said Wednesday that the gridlock resulted when local governments, businesses and schools decided to send people home at the same time.

It turned out that some of the kids didn’t much mind. CNN reported:

“Very exciting day,” teacher Carol McLaughlin tweeted late Tuesday afternoon. “… The kids are being real troopers. : ) I think they think it’s an adventure.”

McLaughlin even posted a picture of some kids out playing in the snow.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · January 29