Parental pain as frigid temperatures threaten school closures and delays

Petula Dvorak
Columnist January 6

You hear that primal scream across the region? It’s a “Noooooo!” mixed with an “I’m gonna lose iiiiiit!”

This is the sound of parents who have just spent two weeks with their kids home from school, facing the possibility of cold-related school closures to delay that glorious, back-to-school moment when you wish Happy New Year and hasta la vista to your child’s back.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

“Rumors that DCPS will close on Tuesday (because it might be cold), following a professional development day on Monday, after that whole 2 weeks of winter break . . . prove that the school system is run by sadists who grew up in tropical climates,” wrote one D.C. mother of three, on her Facebook page.

Terrified parents responded:

“I would go postal.”

“No! Tuesday is the first day I have all three kids back in school in over two weeks.”

Calm down, people. As of Monday evening, D.C. Public Schools were planning to open at their normal time. Ditto for Montgomery County. YAY!

Parents in Northern Virginia were not so lucky. On Monday, schools in Loudoun County were closed because of icy roads. On Tuesday, they’ll be closed again, along with those in Fairfax and Prince William counties.

In Herndon, a mother of two who just learned her kids were staying home, yet again, blasted the decision on her Facebook feed.

“Hasn’t anyone heard of gloves, scarf and a hat when it’s cold?? Just bundle up — people do it all over the world. We are such wimps to cancel school,” she wrote.

School officials in Alexandria and Prince George’s County announced they were delaying school for two hours on Tuesday. The extra time would keep kids walking and waiting for buses out of the worst of the early morning cold and give maintenance crews extra time to deal with any weather-related issues. Also, there’s a bonus for parents who have to launch World War Zzzz to get their heavy sleepers out of bed.

On Monday, the Twitterverse really did sound like a tree full of agitated bird parents completely freaking out that their school district could be next on the close list.

How can you stay employed when you’ve just taken two weeks off and need another one? Offices across the region were filled with tiny people whose parents simply couldn’t afford another day off.

A D.C. parent who goes by talkingbird went straight for a stay-open campaign: “@dcpublicschools please don’t close for the cold. We can get kids to and from school safely. Closure is more disruptive than helpful.”

All that useful energy spent wishing for snow days is now coming back to haunt father of two @TomKingTK. “Monday! Sweet school day Monday! What? No school, teacher meetings?”. . . “Tomorrow possibly too cold for school? All I loved as a kid is evil,” he tweeted.

A Montgomery County mom just asked for early warning. “@MCPS if you’re going to call school tomorrow for cold, please pretty please do it tonight. Thanks.” wrote kimthewriter, a mom who surely faces that horrible work-balance moment every parent faces when school is closed.

This bitter cold is a Rorschach test in a region that doesn’t handle a couple of inches of snow without wigging out. And I’ve gotta say, the name of the weather monster coming our way sounds like one of my kids’ comic book heroes, or a Roland Emmerich disaster film: the Polar Vortex.

By Tuesday, when much of the Northeast will be in negative temps, the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument are going to snap in half in the cold, apparently. And Will Smith won’t be around to save us.

For parents, the frigid blast coming straight from the Arctic Circle is particularly ill-timed. Not only have we exhausted every indoor activity — sugar cube castles, Lego worlds, baking, the biggest rubber loom bracelet EVER, fort building, upside-down Go Fish — and have shattered screen-time rules during these two, long holiday weeks, this weather offers no activity.

A cold day has no resemblance to the glory of an actual snow day — where the rinse-and-repeat cycle of getting all the snow pants, hats, mittens on, then going outside to play, then fighting and screaming because snow went down someone’s back and someone else got smacked with an iceball, then going home for hot chocolate — makes the day feel Sysiphean, but makes it go by faster.

A bitterly cold day?

Let’s crack an egg on the sidewalk and watch it freeze? Test that “Christmas Story” tongue scene?

Nah. This is our big chance to show the rest of the country that flintiness that President Obama longed for when he moved here from Chicago and learned his daughters’ school had closed because of a dusting of snow.

It’s time for the folks of Our Town to show the government how to keep functioning despite a deep freeze, how to hunker down, wear an extra layer and get it done.

Please? For the sake of parents?

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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