It appears this week’s round of messy winter weather won’t hit in time to affect the comings and goings of students and school buses.
Thanksgiving travel to grandmother’s house is another matter, but roads should be cleared by the time classes resume Monday after an extended holiday weekend. But rest assured, snow, ice and frigid temperatures are coming. That means parents and students should expect some of those late-night or early-morning messages about the cancellation of classes.
In the previous academic year, the St. Joseph School District canceled classes nine times because of winter weather, exceeding the five that were built into the calendar. The district didn’t have a full day of school from December to late February. In St. Joseph, many private schools followed the same template, even though most of them don’t have to worry about running buses.
Weather cancellations put any school district in a no-win situation. Someone is always going to complain that either students are being put at risk or school officials should accept the reality of winter in the Midwest. It’s always best to avoid springing the news at the last minute, but that carries risk that the forecast could change and students end up sitting at home after a dusting of snow.
There seemed to be a few of those days last year, as well as plenty of photos of young people sliding down hills a few hours after classes were canceled for their own safety. This raises the point that the safest, warmest spot for many young people might be in a classroom.
Now school officials in St. Joseph are proposing an intriguing alternative. In a survey, the district is asking whether a late start to the school day should be an option on occasion, when winter weather strikes. We think this concept deserves strong consideration.
While it won’t eliminate the need for all full weather-related cancellations, the option of a late start would instill more flexibility and common sense into the decision-making process. It would allow the district to get students into schools on days when the weather isn’t ideal but isn’t severe enough to shut down the entire city. From a parent’s perspective, a late start may be no more inconvenient than a full, unscheduled day off of school.
Of note, many rural districts use two-hour late starts on a regular basis during the winter months. With longer distances and gravel roads, these districts sometimes have better cause to cancel classes due to weather, yet they manage to get their students in the door.
St. Joseph schools should consider a similar philosophy. You can’t do anything about the weather, but you can change how you respond to it.