Op-Ed: Changing rules for 'snow days"

Fairfield hasn’t experienced any major blizzards so far this winter, (last week’s storm definitely doesn’t count) and we can all be thankful for that. But classes at all public and private schools were cancelled for a day last month, based on weather forecasts indicating a significant storm would be blowing through that day.

As it turned out, snow began to fall around 10 a.m. that day, proving the weather forecasters right and heading off a bit of embarrassment for the school officials who had cancelled classes long before a snowflake had fallen.

School superintendents can be sensitive to this sort of thing. Years ago, as a reporter in Shelton, I wrote a bit of a snotty story after the superintendent cancelled classes for the day based on a weather forecast, and not one snowflake fell all day.

Well, the superintendent didn’t appreciate my sarcasm, and he let me know about it. Within minutes of seeing that day’s paper (there were no websites back then), he phoned to let me know how he felt.

“You have no idea what I’m up against here,” he said. “Suppose it really had snowed? Hundreds of kids could have been put at risk, their parents would have been inconvenienced, and I would have been tagged as a buffoon for ignoring a weather forecast.”

Needless to say, I took his point.

It’s true that safety standards have changed over the decades. I can remember walking home (maybe a quarter of a mile) from the old Grasmere School on Meadowbrook Road, during a heavy snowstorm. I’m sure the snow must have been forecast in advance, but school officials must have felt we 6-year-olds could handle it.

I’m sure that six-year-olds wouldn’t be put in such a situation these days. At the mere hint of snow in a weather forecast, classes would be cancelled. And if it turned out that no snow fell, well, no one woukd blame a school superintendent for going the extra mile in the name of safety. Better safe than sorry.

Winter isn’t over yet, and a blizzard may still hit Fairfield. (March storms can be pretty bad, and it’s a major pain to shovel snow on St. Patrick’s Day.) But if “the big one” hits, we can be sure that school officials will be ready, making student safety a priority, and second-guessing an unwelcome but necessary possibility.

We can be thankful for the focus on safety for school kids.

As for the rest of us, we’re on our own.

Tom Henry is editor of the Fairfield Citizen