WASHINGTON – Many school districts in the D.C. area are approaching double digits when it comes to the number of days they’ve closed for weather-related incidents this winter.
For kids, snow days are all fun-and-games. But for parents, school cancellations can be a nightmare — especially when it comes to scrambling to find child care for the day.
“It’s really difficult to figure out how we’re going to do it,” says dad Mike Fishman.
He and his wife live in Montgomery County, Md., and when the schools are closed, they have to decide who can stay home or who can bring their child to work.
“If I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” he says.
Chantal Rotondo has two kids in Alexandria City Public Schools. She has a little more luck when it comes to balancing snow days with work, since her company offers some flexibility.
“The expectation is that those [who] can telework, will. But there is certainly the understanding that normal telework does not include taking care of children at home,” she says.
For parents, planning for a snow day is exhausting. Even if parents make it into work, the worry does not stop.
“Just trying to figure out how much time I can actually spend at work and how long I can leave them at home can be kind of stressful,” says mom Karen Rosen of Bethesda, Md.
That stress is not limited to parents. School officials feel it, as well, when they are pressured to cancel school or keep it on.
“We evaluate the weather forecast, we look at the condition of the roads and we stay in touch with the county about sanding and salting and plowing,” says Dana Tofig, spokesperson for Montgomery County Schools.
But the bottom line?
“It’s all about student safety,” says Jeff Platenberg, chief operating officer for Fairfax County Schools.
According to a well-known groundhog, winter has another six weeks to rage on — leaving plenty of time for more snow.
Until then, mom and WTOP Assignment Manager Darci Marchese shares her struggles with snow, school and work.
Ah, yes. Wintertime in the D.C. area for a working parent. It’s a challenge, for sure.
In order to fully understand where I’m coming from, you must know I’m from Buffalo, N.Y. We went to school in 2, 4, 6, even 8 inches of snow — probably more.
We walked or took the bus, and somehow we made it each day. Only a rare blizzard would shut down school.
Around here, it’s “safety first.” And I get that. I wouldn’t want to see any child get hurt while trying to get to school in the dangerous snow. About a week ago however, my child’s district canceled classes for an inch of the white, fluffy stuff.
I was able to blow the snow off my car, and the roads were completely clear in just a couple of hours. Last year, the district managed to use three snow days while we got a total of … 1 inch of snow for the entire winter.
So yes, my Buffalo roots leave me scratching my head a lot around here, but I digress. I’m supposed to be writing about the scramble that every working parent endures when school is closed for whatever reason.
It really is a scramble. You quickly assess the situation. Do I have a meeting at work? Can I go into the office a little later? Who can I call to watch the kiddo?
Do I call the babysitter or pick up the phone and call my daughter’s friends who have stay-at-home moms? Will they think I’m being bold by asking for free child care? Is she old enough to stay at home for a while? Or do I drag her into work with me?
You don’t want to be the employee who is always calling out sick because of child care issues, but you feel torn. You don’t want to let your boss and colleagues down, but you also don’t want to make choices for your child that are less than ideal.
You wish you could just call out sick and have fun in the snow with your child, in the rare instance there’s actually enough snow in which to play. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
I’m not asking for pity or for others to feel sorry for working parents. Nor do I think superintendents should take our plight into consideration when deciding whether to close a school. It should really be about the safety of our children.
Just know that when children are jumping up and down with delight that school is closed, working moms and dads go into a tailspin, asking, “What now?”
Darci Marchese is WTOP’s Assignment Manager and feature reporter, where she’s worked for 10 years. She lives in Southern Maryland with her husband and 10-year- old daughter. Follow her on Twitter at @DMarcheseWTOP.