When I woke up this morning, the outdoor temperature sensor on our clock informed me that it was -5 degrees Fahrenheit outside (for Flutterby and my Canadian friends, that’s, like -20 Celsius, which are like ‘metric degrees’, or something like that). And immediately, my kids were all excited, bouncing with glee at the possibility that school would be called off, because it’s so cold. Which hasn’t happened yet this school year, but has happened roughly once or twice a year for the past few years.
Excuse me, but. . . what the hell?
It’s COLD. I get that. But, the school’s got a heating system, right? I mean, if the pipes froze and burst, I’d get that. If neighborhood vandals broke all the windows, and there were snow drifts in the classrooms, I’d get that. But – no school because it’s COLD? Sorry, I don’t get that.
I could see that it’s too cold to send the kids out to the playground for recess. So, keep ‘em inside. I get that. But to close the school, just because it’s cold? What's that about?
My goodness, when I was growing up, Up North (and here I am going to begin shamelessly channeling my dad, which is a little weird, because he’s still alive) I remember one time, when I was in 7th grade, when I had to wait for the bus (along with 20 or so other kids who had the same bus stop) in -30F one day (which, in Celsius, is still colder than hell). For two hours. Because none of the buses would start. Because it was minus-freakin’-thirty out. After an hour or so, the lady whose house was nearest the bus stop opened her garage door for us, so we could at least have a little shelter. But, by golly, once they finally got one of the buses sufficiently thawed-out to come and take us to school, we went to school. Which had been open, even before we got there.
And when I was in college, we’d trek a mile or more across campus in negative temperatures, and everybody would look about forty years old, because their breath would frost off on their hair, so it looked like they were going gray. You had to be a little careful about how you placed your notebook for the first 10 minutes or so of class, because the ice would melt off your beard, and you’d soak your notes, if you weren’t careful. . .
Now, Up North, we had snow days. We had LOTS of snow days. ‘Cuz when, you know, the janitor can’t even get to the building to unlock the doors and turn the lights on, well, you know, you can kinda understand why you might need to call off school.
Heck, one year, we had ten snow days; at the height of the winter, they had to dig tunnels to get to a couple of the entrances to the school. And the ten snow days included five-and-a-half in ONE WEEK! We’d had a teacher’s strike in the fall, and in order to make up the lost days, the administration scheduled a few Saturday sessions, in order to bring us up to the minimum number of school days mandated by the state. We went to school on Monday, but by noon, it was snowing so hard that they decided to send us all home while the buses could still get the rural kids to their homes. It snowed hard all day Monday, and most of Tuesday – 24 inches in all. Wednesday, the whole town was digging out, and we expected to go back to school on Thursday.
But it started snowing again Wednesday night, and it continued snowing all day Thursday – another 18 inches. And I gotta tell you, that was one of the character-forming experiences of my – and my brother’s - youth, shoveling 42 inches of snow off our driveway in one week. And, let’s be clear, I do mean ‘shoveling’; snow-blower technology was still in its infancy in those days, and besides, my dad figured he had a couple teenage boys, who he had to feed anyway, who could provide all the snow-removal motive force that was required. Anyway, after a certain point, our capacity to clear the driveway threatened to be limited by our ability to throw the snow over the piles of previously-removed snow, which, by Thursday evening, towered high above our heads. And I won’t even mention the mess at the bottom of the driveway when the plow finally came down our street Friday afternoon.
So, school was closed on Friday. And it so happened that that Saturday was one of the ‘added days’ from the strike. Which were not terribly popular with the students OR the faculty (but, you know, the law’s the law). And, since the ‘back-county’ roads were still being dug out, school was called off for Saturday, too. So we had five-and-a-half snow days in one week. Which must be some kind of record, or something.
So, I understand snow. Heck, when I was in college, my mega-university closed for snow, for only the second time in its history, when we got an 18-inch blizzard in January of ’78. It pretty well shut down most of Lower Michigan. And do not underestimate the capacity of college students, whose classes have been cancelled, for some monumental feats of stupidity.
A group of guys on the top floor of our four-story dorm decided (with plenty of, uh, ‘lubrication’, you can be sure) that it would be really cool to jump out of their windows into the 8-10-foot-high snow drifts that had piled up against the wall. So, for an hour or so, guys were lining up to jump out of 4th-floor windows into the huge snow drift. They would let out a yell while they fell, and then they’d land with a muffled ‘WHUMP’ in the snow. And the snow absorbed the energy of their fall quite nicely. The drift extended all along the outside wall of the dorm, so, as the drift got beaten down in one location, the jumpers just moved progressively down to the other rooms on the 4th floor. After a while, the supply of willing jumpers began to dwindle, and they started to grab guys out of the shower, to throw them, wet and naked, into the snow drift below. It was the very picture of drunken college hijinks.
Until one of the jumpers inadvertently discovered the bike rack concealed beneath the snow drift, which left him with a few broken bones. After that, the mood was kinda killed. . .
So, yeah – snow days, I understand. But closing school, just because it’s COLD? Sorry; I don’t get that. . .
Edit, Jan. 16 - The kids didn't actually have a cold day yesterday, which was a bit of a bummer, at least as far as they were concerned. But today, it was -12F, and the phone rang at 6AM (does anybody else get robo-calls from their school district, giving them the daily attendance report, announcing PTA meetings, etc?), with the word that school has been called for today. I've learned since yesterday that the criterion for 'cold days' is a wind chill below -20F. Apparently, it doesn't take much wind to get there, when the air itself is already minus-12. . . (*sigh*)