Counterpoint: Why days off due to extreme cold are not 'silly'

  • Article by: JANELLE HOLMVIG
  • Updated: January 28, 2014 - 6:38 PM

In this part of town, kids risk frostbite as they walk, and wait, on below-zero days.

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It seems that some people are taking issue with all these “silly days off” from school because of the cold, including a recent letter writer who described them that way in noting that they give children the opportunity to fill the shopping centers (“Cold weather, hot retail: The impact of no school,” Jan. 25).

He must have had a vastly different experience than I have. I live in Minneapolis and work as a nurse for the Minneapolis public schools. My child attends a public school in Minneapolis. The cold we’ve experienced here has had the potential to be deadly.

Many of our students have parents who work at minimum- or low-wage jobs, so it is the students’ responsibility to get themselves up and dressed for school. Many students have younger siblings for whom they are responsible to wake up and help get dressed. Then they venture outside and walk to the bus stop. In Minneapolis, some students walk up to a mile to stand at a designated school bus stop. Often, in winter, they wait for some time before a bus arrives. Traffic can be detrimental to bus schedules; snow and especially cold also affect the most efficient schedules. So the students wait in the cold, too frequently with faces, hands, feet and ears exposed to the below-zero temperatures. As a school nurse, I know that children’s bodies are more vulnerable to the dangers of frostbite and its potentially debilitating results.

The letter writer put the word “cold” in ironic quotation marks. Here in Minneapolis, where it’s been cold and not “cold,” many of our families don’t own cars; they take public transportation to jobs that require they be there, rain or shine, hot or cold. Their children are taught that after fourth grade, students are old enough to wake to an alarm clock and get to the bus stop on time — where in the cold, they wait.

Minneapolis public school social workers are wizards at collecting winter clothing and distributing it to children who need it. But what if a coat is forgotten on the bus, or a mitten is lost, or — more common than is fair — a child wets his or her clothing and no one has had the money or time to get to the laundromat? Hauling laundry on public transportation is a yeoman’s job, and most of our parents don’t send their shirts out to be laundered. The fact is, our students don’t always dress for the weather. Their life circumstances and socioeconomic status dictate this.

There was another glaring difference between the letter writer’s days in the cold and mine. Because I work for the public schools, I wasn’t “forced to spend yet another day” at home with my children. I live in the city, so it might not have been as dangerous for me to take on the cold and get to work, but I have colleagues who drive from as far as Cambridge and Northfield to teach. While I spent my day at my dining room table updating student health information, writing individual education plans and special-education evaluations, I collaborated by telephone and e-mail with teachers working from their dining room tables in Northfield, Cambridge and Minneapolis. None of us was out shopping, and none of us complained about our students being protected from the cold.

The letter writer has the privilege of looking at the cold from his sheltered worldview at the mall, the Apple store, Lunds and Target, while our governor and school superintendents have the responsibility of making certain that none of our students are in danger. Mother Nature sometimes dictates that we stop and respect the weather outside our own front doors.

I applaud the levelheaded thinking of Gov. Mark Dayton, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson of Minneapolis, and all of the school administrators in our state who were brave enough to take on the cold and keep our children in urban and rural areas safe.

 

Janelle Holmvig, of Minneapolis, is a licensed school nurse.

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