Snow Day

Saint Paul Public Schools are closed for a snow day today, following the 12+ inches of snow we got yesterday. We all played in the back yard this morning, and Beatrix has spent all afternoon at her friend's house playing outside. It' a gloriously sunny, snowy, lovely day and it is perfect here. It follows the blizzard yesterday, where the blizzard made it seem like we were in a snowglobe. With candles and a fire going inside, it was the ultimate in hygge.

It was not that idyllic in other places, though. Randolph Heights was easy — Patrick picked up Beatrix from school with only a few problems; busses were all gone within an hour after dismissal, and only a handful of parents were left for parent pickup.

However, at about 7:40 I was texted by a friend and co-RHS parent. She had just learned that there were a bunch of kids (30+) left at both the upper and lower schools of nearby Linwood-Monroe, still waiting for busses. The principal was there with them, and staff were being amazing, but they had no food and it was hard to tell when the busses would arrive — we were already hearing about busses stuck on the roads, crashed into trees, and hours late. There was a fair amount of texting back and forth, and as I was watching facebook explode with similar issues.

Finally, my friend Laura decided to just go through the drive-through at McDonald's and bring food to the little kids at least, and I said I would help cover it. When she showed up at Linwood-Monroe, the kids were so happy to see her!

There was another snafu with the wrong busses at the wrong schools, but Laura stayed until the right busses finally pulled away, about 9:45.

Meanwhile, we were hearing about other issues at Wellstone, Galtier, Farnsworth, and AIMS, among others. Many tales of busses still being out, parents — even our new mayor — digging them out, bus drivers having to stay with their busses for hours until they could be towed.

It seems like everything calmed down around by 10 or 11, and SPPS cancelled school for today — thus, the luxurious snow day.

I (obviously) have a lot of feelings about all this. It seemed strange that SPPS did not call off school on Sunday, when at least the weather predictions I was seeing were calling for very heavy snow in the afternoon. Monday morning arrived without a flake on the ground, but then it began fairly heavily, and we soon know we were in for it. By 10am we knew after school activities were called off, and they had decided to close middle and high schools a little early to hopefully free up the busses earlier.

I don't know that anyone could have predicted the shocking disasters of the transportation services, but I know there should have been a plan to do so. To leave our kids at schools or on busses for upwards of 6-8 hours (longer than they spent at school that day) — well, I don't even have words for it. And you know that I have A LOT of issues with Saint Paul's bussing system, so for me to not have words is ... unusual.

We also need better ways for schools, parents, and PTAs to communicate when there are issues like this. Parents could not find out where their kids were, and there are many tales of them going to the school to find the child, only to have the child be on a bus, and then driving around in the snow looking for them. remember, it's not like most little kids have cell phones and can call, and their seems to be no way to communicate with the busses (and the bus arrival app was laughably inaccurate). The Linwood-Monroe PTA is as fantastic as their staff, and I'm not even sure how I, a PTA president from another school, got called in to deal with this (though I was happy to help). This is exactly what PTAs are there to help with.

I've also loved our new superintendent so far, but I was flabbergasted at how badly this was handled. SOMETHING has to change, and right quick.

I do know that Laura in particular, and the bus drivers, and the staff and teacher who stayed, and other parents who helped out, are all heroes in my book.


Rachel said…
They should have sent elementary students home at noon. The last ones to get buses should have been the high school students, instead of the first ones. They all have cell phones, better resources, and we wouldn't have been so worried about them being so late.
bethanyg said…
Someone just asked me "What would you have done differently?" So here are my first thoughts: What would solve this? Better communication. Staggered and earlier close times when it became evident an early close was necessary. The district declaring that any absences due to weather would be "excused" like they used to do. Admin providing better communication about which schools had which kids at them and what busses they were on (since it was impossible to call the schools because the staff was with the kids). Meals provided to kids waiting for busses so parents did not have to pay their own money to show up at schools with sleds full of food, pizzas, or take-out. Better communication with PTAs so they could help more. More education about Saint Paul and Minneapolis' new ESST laws which allow for paid time off when schools are closed. Earlier police pitch-ins, instead of using SPPD to escort Wild players to Xcel Center so they could make the hockey game on time. Better plowing.
bethanyg said…
And for those of you saying "It's a complicated thing to close a school district," of course it is. I hear your intellectual argument. But now, I really want you to put yourself in the place of the parents affected. You have, say, an 8-year old. It's been almost 7 hours since the end of the day (and remember, a full school day is only 7 hours, so they've been out of school as long as they were in). For any number of reasons — language barrier, no reliable car, unable to leave other kids — you have no way of getting them from school. Or, more likely, you don't even know they are at school still waiting for a bus because you can't get through to anyone. You don't know if they are on a bus, waiting at the bus stop in a snowbank, waiting at school, or dead in a car crash. You don't know if they have any food (and in many cases they did not). You don't know if they can even get home alone from the bus stop in the dark. Suddenly, doesn't that decision seem a lot less complicated, at least emotionally?

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