I've lost track of how many days of school that my daughter has missed due to the snow. It's just ridiculous. Arlington Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy has done a good job of using email and text messages to keep in touch with families about school cancellations. In an email on February 8, he wrote:
This afternoon I had an opportunity to tour the community with County
officials to assess the progress that has been made. Despite almost
three days of round-the-clock work by our crews, many residential
streets remain impassable and very hazardous to navigate. This means
that bus routes in many neighborhoods remain unopened, and the pathway
on a significant number of our bus routes throughout the County are
still blocked. In addition, many walkways are snow-covered and bus
stops have high snow banks in front of them, making it unsafe for
children to walk safely or access their bus.
What jumps out at me about this comment is what seems like a high threshold to re-opening the schools – impassable residential streets, snow-covered walkways and bus stops blocked by snowbanks. If that is the criteria for returning our community's children to school, we might be keeping kids home from school for yet another week while we wait for the snow piled up on sidewalks and at bus stops to melt …
Because it is likely going to be some time before the condition of secondary roads, sidewalks and bus stops improves, at some point the schools will need to open with limited transportation, or even without providing transportation. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I remember listening to the school closing and delay information on KYW and noting that many schools would be announced as "open, no transportation." Can Arlington Public Schools do the same? Virginia Code § 22.1-176 does not mandate school boards to provide transportation to pupils; it only authorizes them to do so. The Arlington Public Schools provides transportation in accordance to its own policies:
Safe transportation to school will be provided at public expense to transport students pre-k through grade 12 living beyond a one mile walking distance from elementary schools and a one and one-half mile walking distance from middle and high schools (property line to property line).
Section 50-5 Transportation (opens in a PDF)
However, I don't see any provision in Arlington School Board Policies Section 50 Operations, Facilities, and Equipment for suspending transportation.
The streets are far from perfect and in many parts are impassable for a school bus, but many people have figured out how to drive themselves to the store or to the best local sledding hill. APS could perhaps suspend bus routes, and/or create some temporary bus routes along major roads (such as Washington Blvd and Lee Highway in my neighborhood). To accommodate an increase in parents driving children to school in such a situation, the schools could offer an extended period in the morning for parents to drop off their children.
I know that there are no easy answers. My mother has been a school district superintendent in Pennsylvania for the past 10+ years. I know the difficulty she has in making decisions about school opening and closing in bad weather. But our kids need to get back to school, and snow piles at bus stops shouldn't get in our way. I hope that the APS administration can find a way to open our schools next week, even if the roads, sidewalks and bus stops are not in ideal condition.