School days, snow days A holding pattern: Schools should accept children early when weather delays occur.

February 15, 1996

"SNOW DAYS, SNOW DAYS, feared cold never-go days," is the way that familiar "School Days" song might be sung in unison by annoyed parents. Numerous snow closings and delayed school openings have played havoc with work, day-care and education schedules. Keeping a child home an hour or two for the school bus, or finding last-minute day-care, can significantly affect the workplace, economy and household routines.

Yet schools decline to open their doors to students early, even if the children arrive by car or walk. If a two-hour weather delay means an 11 a.m. opening, the school won't accept pupils until 10:45 a.m. That's a hassle.

Area school boards should rethink their policy, especially in a winter with so many delayed school days. Children could assemble in gyms, cafeterias or auditoriums, and be supervised by minimum staff until school begins. Staff are paid for these days; scheduling them to get to school at the normal starting time is no more burden than that faced by many other workers.

If delays were the case only during severe storms, there'd be less controversy. But Baltimore area school systems increasingly lean toward delays and cancellations. Two years ago, they set some sort of record for closings, a standard that could well be exceeded this year.

Several factors encourage this propensity to close and delay, much of it tied to school buses: the sprawl of suburbia that expands routes into distant, less serviceable roads; increased use of buses to transport pupils; a heightened awareness of liability for road mishaps. It may be hard to argue with school officials who make the daily weather calls in pre-dawn hours. But schools should broaden their responsibility for receiving pupils when doors are supposed to open, and keeping them occupied until classes officially start on snow delay days. School officials may argue that they're not "baby-sitters," but they should be more cognizant of the fact that they don't operate in a vacuum either.

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