Cold Days, Snow Days (or the Lack Thereof) and My Thoughts

Disclaimer: I am the parent of a 2nd grader in Ann Arbor Public Schools. All opinions are mine and my takeaway from comments I have seen from fellow AAPS parents on Facebook and in person.

Over the weekend after losing yet another day to sub -20F wind chills, I expressed concern that since we had already hit 4 school closures and with more sub -20F wind chills on the horizon, that I was afraid the district would be reluctant to close school due to road conditions.

This morning we woke up to an e-mail from the district that school would indeed be in session for elementary school students in Ann Arbor (Middle and High Schools were scheduled to be off). I had some reservations about the decision, but planned to use my 4WD vehicle to take my husband to work and daughter to school (he usually drives her in his car).

When I checked the Ann Arbor traffic at 6:47a, this is what I saw:

Note all of the yellow on the area highways. A few minutes later, at 7:01a you could see the traffic starting to back up on the north side of town.

Even more than my unplowed neighborhood streets, the condition of the highways is why I was concerned about the decision to hold school today. If the highways aren’t clear, what hope was there that secondary roads would be cleared. Additionally, most other school districts in Washtenaw County were closed including Dexter, Saline, Ypsilanti, Lincoln, Milan, Manchester, Chelsea, and Washtenaw Intermediate.

We did use several major roads on our drive to school, work, and back home – US-23, I-94, Michigan Ave, Washtenaw, Huron Parkway, etc. I was out driving for just over an hour. In that time, I did not see a single snow plow. The highways were traveling at a max speed of 35 due to snow on the road. Side streets were even slower and many looked like they had not seen a plow – even relatively major roads like Washtenaw Ave, Michigan Ave, and Huron Parkway. I did see several cars that had spun out or off of exit ramps and a car on Michigan slide at a red light (fortunately into the empty right turn lane instead of into the car in front of them).

The superintendent’s letter at 11:25a today announced the cancellation of after-school, Rec & Ed, and school sports activities tonight and tomorrow due to the cold temperatures. It also addressed that issue of the number of snow days allocated (emphasis mine)

Public Schools are allowed 6 days lost due to conditions outside the control of school authorities, such as severe storms, fire, epidemics, or other health conditions to be counted toward the 1,098-hours of pupil instruction. At this point AAPS is still well within these allotted hours. We also understand, that since this is an issue across the state, the State of Michigan is likely to review this provision. At this point, it is unlikely that AAPS would need to extend the school year in June based on the number of days used.

I had to laugh at the bolded statement above. What I have heard from parents is that they are concerned about running over the allocated hours. Ann Arbor has used 4 days already and we are not even out of January yet (and Wednesday is looking possible for a 5th day due to cold temperatures). Assuming we lose school on Wednesday, that leaves one snow day for the remainder of the year. There is a lot of concern among parents as to how days will be made up…added to the end of the school year, taken away from a break, time added to the day, or a state decrease in hours required. Personally, my preferred way to make-up the time would be time added to the day. An extra 10-15 minutes on a school day would likely not significantly impact many family’s schedules. Losing days from a break or extending the school year could have an impact on family vacations or camp schedules.

One proposal that I would like to make to the district is to utilize a 2 hour delay to the start of school. I grew up on the east coast where a 2 hour delay was frequently used to give plows a chance to clear the streets (or the temperatures to warm up and melt ice). I could see a 2 hour delay being particularly effective on days where the windchill was below -20F in the morning and warmed a bit later in the day (such as is forecast for Wednesday).  Instead of losing a whole day, we would only lose 2 hours of school. Delays work in other areas, I am not sure whey Ann Arbor does not use them. (And it seems to me that many working parents would find it easier to miss 2 hours of work, work from home for 2 hours, or find 2 hours of childcare compared to missing all day, working from home all day, or finding all day childcare).

If the schools are going to refuse to close for road conditions like we saw this morning, there really needs to be a better effort to clear the roads in a timely fashion. Even when I picked my daughter up after school while the highways were cleared (and I finally saw a plow on the highway), the other roads were still snow covered and it was snowing again.

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Ann Arbor with Kids is your go-to source for Ann Arbor Family Fun. It got its start in an activity list that I was compiling for the playgroup I ran at our church. When my daughter started preschool, the other moms were thrilled to hear about my list. I decided to take the list public in 2009.

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