This week, that question was likely on the minds of Washington area parents, particularly those in Northern Virginia, as they juggled work responsibilities with the logistics of child care. The inability of residents of this area to deal with snow is legendary, so we’ll concede that it was probably prudent that school systems throughout the region closed in the face of storm forecasts for Tuesday. Even schools in the District, traditionally the holdouts in trying to stay open, closed.
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In truth, though, the storm that swept through the area was not all that bad, even as it brought the most significant snowfall in three years. “Moderate” was the description from The Post’s Capital Weather Gang. Nonetheless, schools remained closed Wednesday — even as local officials patted themselves on the back for the good job done in clearing streets. On Thursday, most school systems returned to some normalcy, but those that stayed closed — Fairfax being the most prominent — were derided. “Does another place in the United States, or any cold-weather nation, deprive its students of school because of the weather so often?” McLean residents Jon and Eike Gundersen wrote in a letter that appears on this page.
Yes, decisions must be based on students’ safety. But there are also costs when schools are closed — in lost earnings, inconvenience to parents and missed classroom time. Not to mention the message that is sent about the importance of school.
We wouldn’t want officials to make reckless decisions, but we do think school calendars need to be reappraised. If the tendency is to close schools at the first possible sign of bad weather or when it’s clear but chilly, more time should be built into the calendar.
Loudoun County schedules 15 extra days of instruction and so, unlike other systems, isn’t now scrambling to figure out how to make up for the lost time (Saturdays? Extend the school year? Cancel planned holidays?). Loudoun’s calendar allows for even the most severe winters, and if the days aren’t needed, students simply get extra instruction. That, to our mind, is an added benefit.