Snowzilla, the Miller B-type storm that clobbered the Mid-Atlantic in late January, caused schools in my county to close for a week. That shouldn't have surprised anyone who has experienced more than one severe weather event in this area. In 2010, our kids had what amounted to a second winter break, with the HCPSS offering more or less the same reasons: it takes time to clear out the parking lots, lingering ice endangers children at bus stops, and students in rural parts of the county have to trudge a long way to school.
It shouldn't be a surprise, either, that frustrated working parents began to kvetch. During the aftermath of any snow event, there's a period of time during which everyone agrees that the schools should be closed. Then, as the driveways get dug out and the roads cleared, dissension begins to manifest. This started to happen around Wednesday. By Friday -- seven days after the onset of the storm -- the irritation index was high. Some took to the school system's Facebook page, only to be punched back by defenders of the closures.
"Not all of us 1) stay at home, 2) have relatives who can help out or 3) work [that] allows us to have make-shift take your child to work day," wrote one parent, Renee Kamen. "Not all of the residents in HoCo are privileged and [able to] just take off of work and it shouldn't be the assumption."
The opposing camp fired back, piling on the indignation. Schools are not daycare centers. The HCPSS knows whether it's safe out there, and you don't. There's still ice on the roads, dammit -- a kid could slip and fall. Don't you care about safety? What kind of parent are you, anyway?
The attempted emotional blackmail didn't faze Shannon Drury, another closure skeptic. "If we are going to wait to send students back to school until we can be guaranteed no child will be injured, we will never be sending students back to school," she pointed out.
Things took a creepy, passive-aggressive turn when some posters hinted at a wish for the children of school-criticizing parents to suffer accidents, so that these misguided folk would see the light.
I side with the misguided, personally -- if only because the other set is piling on the sanctimony and dishonesty, dismissing valid concerns, and refusing to see that this debate is about socioeconomic privilege. For the record, the extended closures are not a big problem for my family. It's good to see the kids out of doors and offline. My wife and I both do work that can be done at home, and we work for employers that make reasonable accommodations. We're lucky.
We know people who are even luckier, like a former neighbor -- a civil servant -- who is only required to be physically present at his office a few times a month. Pretty sweet deal, I say.
For some, snow days are no worry at all. They're an opportunity for hot chocolate, family memories and Facebook photo ops.
But what if you work in retail? What if you're at a company that regularly threatens its workers with layoffs? What if your work isn't transportable, and an unplanned week off the job leads to missed deadlines? What if your employer is stingy about general leave? What if you used it up already on doctor's appointments or school system "professional work days"?
Flexibility, in our society, is a perk. Just as some people work at organizations that offer excellent health care coverage, an on-site gym, or subsidized classes, some people also get the right not to feel anxious about snow days. Unfortunately, when we don't feel anxious about something, we often lose the capacity to understand others' anxiety. I see a lot of that going on in the Facebook comments.
If extended school closures aren't a headache for you, it probably means you're a stay-at-home parent, married to a stay-at-home parent, or employed at a job that lets you take leave on short notice or allows you to work at home.
And if you're snide and dismissive when someone speaks up on behalf of the less privileged, it's not because you're taking a brave stand on behalf of child safety.
You're just gloating.