Make Children’s Safety Top Priority

Editor, News-Register:

I am a parent of children in the Ohio County School System. I would like to express my appreciation to the school system for the safety of our most precious assets – our children. Should Ohio County Schools have cancelled classes most of a week due to inclement weather? Maybe not. Should all of the other school systems in the Ohio Valley have had cancellations last week? Maybe not.

If school had been held, would a bus have wrecked and would we be reading about the loss of a young life right now? Probably not, but possibly. The superintendents of Ohio County Schools and the other school systems in the area have a very tough decision to make early in the morning when most of us are still sleeping. Do we have school and face the possibility of a bus accident along with angry parents who demand to know why the children were sent to school in inclement weather? Or, should we cancel school and face the wrath of the angry parents who express their concerns about their children’s education and their difficulty in finding childcare? It’s a no-win situation for the school systems.

The buses in the Ohio County School system transport children to and from schools in a large area. Weather conditions in the valley can vary greatly from one place to another. The conditions of roads in town are often very different than those in the outlying areas where there is more snowfall and snowdrifts are plentiful. We, as parents, do not know the condition of all of the roads on which the buses travel. We do not know how equipped the buses are to handle slippery roads. We do not know what time the buses begin picking up children in the morning and what time the children finally make it home. Why do they have school farther north when inclement weather hits? Maybe they have more equipment and more manpower to run the equipment. Maybe the buses are better equipped to handle slippery roads. Maybe the roads their buses travel on do not have as many hills and turns. Maybe the heart of the storm is farther south. There are many unknowns.

Imagine the situation faced by school officials, teachers, parents and children back in the flood of 2004. Imagine the thoughts of the elementary school children who had to climb a hill in a single file line to a school bus parked along the interstate because the creek next to the school was fast approaching. Imagine the fears of all the young children walking into Wheeling Park High School to seek shelter while worrying about their parents, siblings and houses. Imagine the sheer panic of parents trying to get to their children while many roads were blocked due to flooding and traffic. Imagine the incredible feat performed by Ohio County School officials and teachers in caring for the physical and emotional needs of the children that ultimately had to spend the night at Wheeling Park High School. On Thursday, Jan. 7, there was a Winter Weather Advisory issued by the National Weather Service, warning us of the impending weather conditions that could start as early as 1 p.m. Heavy snowfall could lead to quickly covered roadways and limited visibility making travel very difficult. It was obvious by looking at the radar that we were in the path of the storm. The latest dismissal times in the Ohio County School system are at 3:30 and 3:45 p.m. The children from those schools would have been on the buses that day when the worst of the storm hit. The weather forecast cannot always be ignored, as it was by many of us back in 2004.

Schools are not day care centers. Yes, it is a hassle for us as working parents to shuffle our children around during two-hour delays and school closings. However, that is not the responsibility of the school system. Their first priority in making these decisions is the safety of OUR children. The correct decision will not always be made. However, if one child’s life is saved during my children’s entire education in the Ohio County School System, then all of the delays and cancellations are well worth it. There are many times that we, as parents, do not understand or agree with the delays and cancellations. We must remember, however, that someone has the job of making that decision and they are much more informed than we are. We are very fortunate to have the choices in education that we have in Ohio County. The Ohio County School system is an excellent public school system with an outstanding reputation. We also have the opportunity to send our children to well-respected private schools in the area where buses are not provided and school is rarely cancelled.

Schools are a very important part of our children’s education. Our teachers do a wonderful job of teaching our children the fundamentals necessary for a bright future. However, education does not start and stop in the classroom. A parent who is able to miss work during a snow day has a perfect opportunity to spend the time with their child to teach them things that cannot be learned in a classroom. There are so many teaching opportunities that present themselves every day that we, as parents, can take advantage of, if only we have the time. Parents who miss work on these days have the perfect time, free of other obligations.

For those of us who cannot miss work on snow days, it is our responsibility to put our children in a healthy and productive environment. The hardest part of being working parents is making sure our children are being taken care of physically and emotionally while we are away. Unfortunately, there are limited resources in the Ohio Valley for working parents during snow days, especially with last year’s closing of Orchard Park Child Care. Regardless, it is still our responsibility to have a plan in place on these days. When planned appropriately, snow days can be used as wonderful examples for our children. Our children see that their safety and well-being are our first priority. Education is also important and that is evident by the choices we make as parents when our children have snow days. For those of us who leave our children in a nurturing environment and continue to go to work, our children learn that some career paths involve patients or customers that depend on our reliability.

In this valley, there will always be snow days. We all will wonder, at times, why school officials cancelled school. We must all remember that they may not always make the decision we think is right, but they are making the best decision they can with the information they have available at the time. Education is essential. However, during inclement weather, there is another more urgent priority – for our children to be home safe and sound at the end of the day, ready for another day of learning.

Amber Hines