We could hear the collective sigh on Tuesday morning as parents and their school-age children rolled out of bed, looked out the window, saw the worst didn’t happen weather-wise — and then learned that classes had been delayed for two hours, abruptly altering the schedules of tens of thousands of people.
There were probably a couple of curse words muttered too.
Officials with the Public Schools of Robeson County waited as long as they could before making the decision to pull the plug on the first two hours of school, making the announcement shortly before midnight on Monday, prompting thousands of robo calls that angered some parents of school-aged children because of their lateness in the evening. This newspaper published the news on robesonian.com as soon as we saw it, about 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
School officials understand they can’t satisfy 24,000 students and almost twice as many parents, so they bow at the appropriate altar — that of safety.
While preparing to make a decision on whether or not to cancel or delay a school day, education leaders are in constant conference calls with weather experts. They need to know not only what, but exactly where and when. Remember, Robeson County, with 949 square miles, is the largest county in the state, and the weather in St. Pauls might be much different than it is in Rowland. Don’t be fooled into believing the weather in your front yard is representative of much more than your neighborhood.
According to school officials, there are 274 buses that must travel 15,000 miles every school day. Some of the more rural routes begin as early as 6 in the morning, and yesterday the temperature at that time was in the low-20s. Children can suffer hypothermia in those temperatures while waiting outside for a school bus. And on Tuesday morning, while some roads appeared fine, black ice lurked on low-lying roads.
A single accident could be tragic, and the schools have to consider the consequences, death, severe injuries — and what would follow, litigation.
Add into that mix other considerations, which are more practical, such as feeding students and that classified employees are limited to 40 hours a week.
Twice this year the Public Schools of Robeson County has lost a stretch of four school days to weather we rarely see in Southeastern North Carolina, and although a plan has been put in place to make up the first four days, a second plan is needed for the second four days. The two hours lost on Tuesday will also have to be made up as the state demands a threshold of classroom time.
So the last thing school officials wanted was to delay the start of the school day on Tuesday. But they had no choice, and neither did they have an option other than the late robo calls.
Better safe than tragically sorry.