When I was a kid, school was cancelled when it snowed. A lot. We had two hour delays when it snowed and the plow trucks were still working on it, but couldn’t get there quite in time to make our commute safe.
Today, my kids have two hour delays if it’s too cold out. And they’re not alone. It’s becoming a new norm across the country. It’s something that didn’t really happen when I was in school, and there’s lots of theories as to why. Some say that it’s pressure school administrators are under from parents and public opinion. Some say it’s due to more accurate weather forecasting in our modern age.
But the theory that holds the most water in my books comes down to one thing: money.
It’s not what you’re thinking. The school districts themselves aren’t saving oodles by having kids come in two hours later each day. But someone is. And that someone is the busing companies.
When it’s cold out, it takes a while for diesel buses to get started. Back in the day our bus drivers would come in early on those particularly cold days to make sure everything was up and running to get everyone to school on time. Back in the day our bus drivers got to log over time for doing their jobs.
Today, bus companies would prefer to not pay out that overtime. So they have their employees come in at regular business hours. When it’s too cold to get things up and running in time, we get the line, “It was too cold to get the buses started this morning.”
When you get down to temperatures below zero, starting school two hours later and a degree warmer isn’t helping our children’s safety a whole bunch. We should be bundling up the same way we would be if they were out at the bus stop a couple hours earlier. Safety can’t be the contributing factor.
Closings are a different beast. If school is closed, it would seem that public opinion is the more likely culprit behind the decision. But with two hour delays and minimal differences in temperature, the most logical contributing factor is the bus companies saving their bottom line.
While sleeping in for a couple of hours may seem nice the first few times, the rate of these delays has really astounded me this year. They’re detrimental to education as teachers can’t possibly cram in all of their content with two less hours in the day. When it becomes a repeat pattern, you spend a lot of time just trying to play catch up instead of getting the instruction that was intended for that time in the year. Unlike closings, two hour delays don’t have to be made up, so those two hours are truly lost time. Once or twice might be expected when you live in a climate that actually has a winter, but when I add up all the school my kids have missed this year the multiplication really sends the numbers out of this world.
If the bus companies are the reason why we have so many two hour delays, I’d be interested in seeing my district explore working with the ones who don’t mind paying their employees overtime. I’d be interested in getting my kids those hours of education that they’ve been missing at school.