Redefining a calamity
The same week that Gov. Ted Strickland talked about the need to expand Ohio’s school year to 200 days, two Mahoning Valley school districts shut down for three days because of snow.
The superintendents of Youngstown and Warren city school districts were clearly concerned about the ability of their buses to navigate unplowed side streets and they worried that children forced to walk in the streets because of unshoveled sidewalks would be in danger.
Such concerns are understandable. And yet ...
Just over the state line, Sharon city schools continued to operate, and Sharon certainly has side streets — and its terrain has more hills than Warren or Youngstown.
Tale of two states
Anyone who watches the closings scroll across the bottom of a television screen on a snowy morning can’t help but notice that Ohio schools close far more readily than their Pennsylvania counterparts. It rarely has to do with the Ohio side of the line getting more snow, more ice or colder temperatures. Pennsylvania law requires that schools be in session for 180 days; Ohio law encourages schools to be open for 182 days, but provides for four “calamity days.”
There was a day not long ago when Ohioans would have been ashamed to acknowledge that six inches of snow constituted a calamity.
Children should not be placed in unnecessary danger. By the same token, what does it say about the value we place on education when it takes more than a day or two to clear the streets for school buses or when it can’t be assumed that parents or neighbors will do their part to get children to school safely two days after a storm passes through?
We don’t want to sound like the old timers who recall walking 10 miles to school each day, uphill both ways. But administrators, city officials and parents are sending the wrong message when schools are closed too quickly or for too many days.