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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sn-overreacting

If you’ve read my profile, or know me personally, you know I was raised in the Rochester, N.Y., area.

I was born in 1963 and last lived in Rochester full-time in 1981, when I went off to college.

During my years there, Rochester had the dubious distinction of being the snowiest large city in the United States – yes, snowier than neighboring Buffalo – averaging just under 100 inches of accumulation per winter, according to the National Weather Service.

Suffice it to say, it snowed a lot in Rochester when I was growing up – sometimes day after day after day. Three inches at a time. Maybe six. Often 10 or more.

And how many “snow days” did my school district have during my 13 years as a student?

One.

Not one per year. Not one-hundred.

One.

In 13 years.

In my adopted hometown of Kingston, where my son in a ninth-grader, “one” is how many inches of snow on the ground it takes to create widespread panic and shut down everything, starting with the schools.

Today is Jan. 7. The winter of 2008-09 is a scant 18 days old. And the Kingston school district just used its third snow day. Unbelievable.

I went out for a drive this morning. There was an inch or two of snow on the grass, covered with a thin glaze of ice from the freezing rain that began falling overnight. But most of the roads – thanks to vehicles keeping them warm and the city doing a pretty good job of plowing and salting – were just wet; not much worse, really, than on a rainy day in May.

But the Kingston schools are closed today, as are most schools up and down the eastern portion of New York state – from the Adirondacks to the lower Hudson Valley.

Why?

Is it because school district officials are spooked by hysterical forecasters who use phrases like “winter storm warning”? Is it the fear that’s brought on by seeing an ominous white (or, worse yet, pink) blob moving toward the region on those in-motion radar maps? Is it taking the principle of “erring on the side of caution” do ridiculous extremes?

Or is it, perhaps, the fear or liability?

DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! Congratulations, Mr. Schiffres! You answered correctly and solved the mystery!

School districts – at least the ones around here – close at the drop of a snowflake these days because they fear that any amount of wintry precipitation on the roads could cause a school bus accident and that any school bus accident could result in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

The reality is that school buses are big, safe vehicles that very, very rarely are involved in serious accidents, regardless of the weather. But our society has become so much more litigious since my school days that districts simply are not willing to do anything that could put their finances in jeopardy.

I guess I see the reasoning in that. And I understand that societal changes, more than changes in perceptions about wintry weather, probably are to blame here.

But there still is no getting around the fact that our children spend way too many winter weekdays at home when they should be in school. And only the school districts can reverse this ever-accelerating trend.

Here’s hoping.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Tara O'Sullivan, Truck Driver / Tattoo Artist said...

I am currently staying with my 15-y/o nephew and a 5 y/o boy who could be considered a distant nephew.

The last three days were fettered with 2 Hour Delays and the day before yesterday was a full day off....Because of ice. 1/4"-3/4" of ice.

I grew up in Saugerties on a back farm road...Sometimes the school buses just simply wouldn't travel down my road and I'd have to get driven to school by my parents. But I can really only remember a minimum of a foot of snow, with more on the way, as being a reason for a delay or day off.

I think they're getting ridiculous! I know the safety of the students is a primary concern, but are the drivers really that terrible that a small amount of snow is cause for a day off? I've got a CDL and have driven an empty 18-wheeler with a 53' trailer through the mountains of North Carolina in the dead of winter! And I'm still alive.

Anyway, ramblings aside...The school districts are getting a bit ridiculous with their Snow Days. In the last month, the kids have had 4 full days off, 9 2-Hour Delays and one day where the younger kids got sent home early.

What is the big problem?

January 9, 2009 at 12:28 PM 
Blogger b said...

Used to live in West Hurley. Now live near Flagstaff. I can tell you that the teachers here love snow closure days. They get lots of them too. Poor underpaid teachers, off all summer and off dozens of days throughout the school year. Ever see what a college professor makes out here? I'm in the wrong profession.

January 20, 2009 at 4:55 PM 

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