• Wed, Jan 8 - 5:00 pm ET

Pissed About School Closing For Cold During The Polar Vortex? You’re A Heartless Bastard

Polar Vortex

I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but in the United States, hell has frozen over. The polar vortex has arrived! It’s cold as shit basically everywhere except Florida and people are flipping out. Parents are flipping out because their children have cabin fever and schools have been closed since Christmas. And other people are flipping out because America has turned into a nation of weaklings who can’t handle the cold.

My Facebook feed has been full of people grumbling and complaining about the many school closures and delays due to extremely cold temperatures. You know, things along the lines of “The roads are fine! Schools have heat! Let ‘em learn!” At first, I was all like, “Yeah! Make those kids go to school! We never had school cancelled for cold weather!”

I grew up in Baltimore, which generally has at least one heavy snow per year. We, of course, absolutely lived for snow days, and lazy days spent sledding, watching movies and drinking hot chocolate are some of the best memories of my childhood. As I got older, it seemed like the school system would cancel or delay school much more easily, even just for predicted snow or freezing rain. So when I saw so many people commenting on the new development of canceling school for cold, I thought back to my childhood smugly, remembering all the days I walked to school freezing my ass off when there was absolutely no snow on the ground.

But then I read this article, which makes a powerful case for why school was cancelled for cold temperatures in the DC area. Fairfax County, located in Virginia just outside DC, has about 47,000 students who qualify for free or reduced fee school meals, which the government uses as a measure of poverty. Fairfax County School Board member Ryan McElveen (At Large) said:

“When you have a large high-poverty community, you need to be thinking about those students and if they own coats.”

Well, shit. Privileged, lives-in-a-bubble, had-a-brand-new-winter-coat-every-year-as-a-child me actually never even thought about children who might not own coats. Or children who must walk a longer way than a few blocks to school. Or children whose parents might not own cars to drive them on especially cold mornings. In Prince William County, also in VA, Phil Kavits, a school spokesman, said:

“The combination of a forecast of record-breaking cold and unprecedented wind chills led to the possibility of danger, especially for the more than 20,000 walkers we have. Really, the conditions made for a fairly easy call, because we don’t want to expose students to these kinds of dangers associated with this kind of cold.”

The seriously cold temperatures around the nation may be normal for some regions, like upper New England and the Midwest, but that’s not the case for others, like in DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, even some parts of the South and West. People are dying out there, for chrissake! Individual districts (with specific types of student populations and student needs) have the right to make the call about what’s best for their students, despite what might have happened in the past or which assholes think America is now a nation of lily-livered assholes who don’t know how to bundle up, grit their teeth and soldier on like a goddamn Puritan.

I mean, really. Here’s an article from The Atlantic saying we’re all pussies because Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s school was never cancelled for a blizzard or for cold. Generally, I am very sympathetic to any argument involving Laura Ingalls Wilder as a talking point, but not this one. Things are not the same as in the 1880s. The mid-Atlantic is not North Dakota. We are not farming people who know how to break paths through snow drifts (At least, most of us aren’t. Those of you who are? Thank you for growing my food.) Maybe that makes us weak, silly, and wimpy, but at least it means we’re compassionate.

Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

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  • Alicia Kiner

    I look at it this way… if the kids are in danger of getting frostbite on their way to school or while waiting for a bus, then school should be closed. Regardless of whether the school is heated, it’s not safe getting the majority of kids to school. Period. That’s what is important. Can you imagine the uproar if children DIED on their way to school?! The world would go bloody insane.

  • Mystik Spiral

    The sad thing is that many of those poor kids might be better off AT school, once they get there. Because if they don’t have coats, who’s to say they have heat at home? :(

    • elle

      Sad but true. And if they qualify for subsidized meals they may not have much food either. I wish there could be a way to bus them in if that would be a safer environment for them :(

    • Sandy

      True. Which is why it would be great if places would open warming centers much like they do cooling centers in the summer. However, the thing is that the heating systems at the schools were likely designed for less extreme weather and therefore might not cut it when the temperature is so far from the normal range for the area. That leaves the possibility of the heating system breaking and the school facing an early and much more chaotic closure since it is unlikely that all of the children will have someone available to pick them up mid day.

    • pixie

      During the really bad ice storm that hit the Toronto area December 21/22, when thousands lost power, many not getting it back until after the New Year, the malls that had power in the surrounding areas were telling people to go there to spend time in the warmth, no pressure to buy anything , just stay warm. Even the hospitals were letting people hang out in their waiting rooms to get out of the cold. Luckily the malls and hospitals in the area have good heating, since we do get cold weather. It’s unfortunate that in more temperate climates, where this sort of thing happens rarely, there’s not the availability for warming centres to be open in case of really cold weather. They might rarely be used, but good for an emergency like this.

  • Pumplestilskin

    Didn’t read the linked article, but the Laura Ingalls Wilder argument is flawed. School was actually called off through most of The Long Winter due to cold and blizzards and during These Happy Golden Years, when she was teaching, school was cancelled by the Superintendent because it was too cold. I may have read the books ahem, a few thousand times
    I live south of Buffalo by about an hour. We get cold, we get snow, it’s winter in WNY, it’s how we roll. Nobody in our town complained about school being closed though. This temperature was beyond frigid. We live in a farming community, we are hardy stock and there is not much of a poverty level here but everyone said, think of the walkers, think of the kids without adequate coats. One of the Buffalo news stations websites though, those people were insane, there is a lot of kids in poverty there, most kids walk. People calling kids wimps, “pussies”, claiming that in the 70′s and 80′s that winter was always like this (it was not). there was a man who claimed that snow to the rooftops was the norm in the 70′s, his parents had pictures. I’m sorry, moron but in the 70′s, if your parents took pictures of it, it was a big deal. this weather brought out the best in some but the worst in others

    • http://carrie-murphy.com/ Carrie Murphy

      OMG, thank you so much for jumping with serious LIW scholarship.

    • Pumplestilskin

      Yeah, I’m kind of a nerd that way, lol. A friend of mine took a trip to South Dakota to visit her in laws a few years ago. She said I was the only person excited for her and I begged her to bring me a souvenir from the Ingalls homestead.

    • kay

      Have you read The Wilder Life? It’s about a woman looking at/visiting sites from the little house books and stuff. I liked it…

      Except that reading it I found out where my husband’s grandma lives is next to the town in Kansas were the little house on the prairie was! AND NO ONE TOLD ME WHEN WE WERE THERE. I may never stop being mad about that.

    • Pumplestilskin

      I haven’t, I’ve read a few of her biographies and also take an inordinate amount of pride in the fact that we live very near Cuba, New York where Pa was born. I may have a problem…

    • http://carrie-murphy.com/ Carrie Murphy

      READ THE WILDER LIFE. It’s so so good.

    • ELK

      WHOA WHOA WHOA. CHARLES INGALLS WAS BORN IN CUBA?!

      Holy crap. My dad lives in Cuba and I graduated high school there.

    • http://carrie-murphy.com/ Carrie Murphy

      Guys I just want to tell you one thing: I HAVE THE SAME BIRTHDAY AS MA INGALLS. And my name is Caroline!

    • Pumplestilskin

      Yep, we go there for cheese at the cheese factory and I drive my husband nuts with, hey, where do you think he lived? Wonder if any of his relatives still live here, lets ask.

    • ELK

      Now I want to know where he lived. I have a Facebook message out to a friend in Cuba to see if she knows anything. There has to be a way to find out where he lived. Census records or something. I feel like it should be something the town plays up. There could be “Cheese and Pa Ingalls Home” tours or something. That would be awesome.

    • Pumplestilskin

      Thank you! It’s all I ask for :)

    • Blueathena623

      I have several souvenirs myself, and may have made a will as a 7yr old that dictated my LIW books be buried with me.

    • Sri

      Does he mean the blizzard of ’77? Because that was kind of a big deal. My family has a lot of pictures of my brothers sledding off of the roof, too, but that’s because it was a blizzard! They made an ice cream flavor to commemorate it! It was a BFD!

      That said, I play it cool when I tell my coworkers that I’m from WNY. “Oh, you must really be used to the snow by now! This storm is no big deal!” And in my head I’m freaking out because we suck at snow removal out here compared to back home, so it’s way way worse than we would ever let it be in WNY, but I’m like “Oh, yeah, no big, we get this all the time!”

      Also, I’m way too nosy, so now I’m going: Eden? Springville?

    • Pumplestilskin

      I’m sure that’s why his parents had pictures of it but what he said was “in the 70′s, snow and cold like this was the norm, my parents have pictures of snow to our rooftops”. Also, he was complaining about it the day before yesterday when there were blizzard rumblings. He said they call all winter storms blizzards now, um…no. Buffalo had a full on blizzard going on yesterday.

    • Sri

      I saw pictures from some of my friends. You couldn’t even see across the street a lot of the time. I was pretty glad I moved away for the first time, yesterday.

      I don’t doubt that that guy was wrong at all. I know that there were a few bad storms in the 70′s but it wasn’t all winter every winter.

      I recognize Randolph, but mostly from the snow day lists growing up. You were always the point where I would get impatient for the list to loop back to the beginning so I could see my school.

    • Pumplestilskin

      Oh I don’t doubt he remembers bad winters. I remember a winter when my older brothers, who would have been over 6 ft at the time, took my younger brother and I outside to play. I was 4 he was 2. They had to carry us on their shoulders because the snow was above their waists. I just realize that not every single winter was that way

    • Pumplestilskin

      Sorry, very small town, Randolph. We are known for, nothing, lol. Football maybe? Amish?

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      Yeah, and those kids walking home in the blizzard in The Long Winter barely made it home! And Pa nearly died out there. Bad example, right?

    • aCongaLine

      Yes! LIW for the win! As I read this article, I was thinking “Pa got stuck in “On the Banks of Plum Creek” in a snowbank for weeks and had to eat all the CHristmas peppermint sticks… School can’t be in session without peppermint sticks!” (full disclosure… named my eldest after LIW. Read the books 100s of times.)

    • Pumplestilskin

      And my son points out that in Farmer Boy Almanzo got to stay home whenever his parents wanted and to play on his birthday

    • aCongaLine

      Also, he and Eliza were totally bad… they ate all the sugar (why no sugar coma from that? seriously!), and had to patch up some wallpaper… Oi. The Wilders were seriously free-range :)

  • Peggy

    In western NY, our local health department recommended all schools be closed because of the dangerous cold (-20 to -30 with the wind). We have a large urban population, who relies heavily on buses that transfer to other buses, and I think that probably had a lot to factor into the decision.

  • Janok Place

    Im in Canada, I see both sides of it. Although the temperature Americans are facing is the norm or better then what we expect, the fact is we expect it and, for the most part, are prepared. I especially feel for the families living in poverty. I understand they may not have winter coats, but I imagine finding child care for these children is next to impossible for the parents who work. Where does that leave them? Less work, losing their jobs? It’s just not good.

    Canadians should be reaching out. We have snow suit drives every year for the kids, but in recent years they’ve stopped accepting used winter coats which is a crying shame. Many families have garbage bags of them and nothing to do with them, if they started a drive in a province like mine (Ontario) they would likely get tens of thousands of gently used winter wear clothing. I myself have 3 sets I would gladly give. Sure they aren’t new, but they’re still warm.

    • Rachel Sea

      Call the American Red Cross, I bet if you can arrange a winter coat drive, that those coats would find good homes here.

    • Janok Place

      I realized after the post, I’m Canadian and should probably be reaching out myself. The fact is where we now live is just 15 minutes from Ogdensburg NY (so I could easily have my husband shuttle some coats if I could round them up) and I just don’t know many people in the area. But I think tomorrow I may look into organizing something on our side of the border.

  • pixie

    At first I thought similar to you, let ‘em suck it up and make ‘em go. But then, like you, I began to think of the poor children who might not own coats (who sadly, as Mystik Spiral points out, might be better off at school if they don’t have heat at home) and then I began to think of my own days walking to school.

    Elementary/middle school wasn’t so bad, I lived less than a 5 minute walk away. High school though was a different story. My parent both left for work before I woke up for school, so unless one of them had the day off, I got to walk a half hour to school. For some reason the kids in the newly built subdivisions (who lived closer) got bussed, but on my side of the major road, the older subdivision, did not. The time I woke up was after the radio/tv announcements for snow/ice days or bus cancellations but I had to leave before the next announcement. It sucked when I got to the school only to find the VP by the front door telling everyone to turn around. It was a blessing when they finally began to post the announcements online. There were days that were really really cold, even wearing a good winter coat, a heavy sweater, leggings under my pants, boots, thick socks, a scarf, a hat, and mittens. And there were definitely days where I wished they closed the school because of the cold.

    If I was nearly crying I was so cold all bundled up, I can’t begin to imagine how a kid without all that would feel. (And when I found a couple of my friends without, I gave them spare hats/gloves that were around my house)

  • keelhaulrose

    I went out in the -45 wind blasts on Monday, and I seriously had a hard time breathing. I was immediately glad they cancelled school.
    School was also out yesterday, and I took my girls to an indoor playground. Even in the building it was cold. Yes, I know, bigger space and all that, but there are approximately 10 bajillion windows in the school, which I imagine makes it hard to keep it properly heated. And it’s a relatively new building. I’ve worked in a few older schools where the breeze did not stay inside.

    • Pumplestilskin

      My youngest daughters teacher sent home a note at the beginning of winter saying that their classroom is always chilly, please send in sweaters for our kids.I can’t imagine how cold it would be with the wind chills we’ve been having

  • Muggle

    I live in southern Virginia, where temperatures got down to 10 degrees with a wind chill of 5 below. I know, I know, SO mild, but few people here, no matter how wealthy they are, are prepared for that kind of cold. It’s rare. There are a lot of people who simply don’t own winter coats. They don’t see a need for them usually.

    Of course my relatives from Ohio were all “kids are SO coddled these days” and I had a feeling that if I pointed out the fact that nobody had coats (my parents bought coats for my sister and I, anyway), they’d be all “well they could just buy them!”

    *sigh*

    • Lisa

      I live in Ohio, and quite frankly, this was a big deal. With the wind chill making temperatures in the -20s and -30s. That is cold. I don’t care that we’re used to it being cold, that is much colder than is typically expected. Universities were shut down-it was just too damn dangerous for all of us to be outside.

      If I’m supposed to risk frostbite or hypothermia within 2 minutes (and I know how to layer), call off school. End of discussion.

    • Muggle

      I should have clarified that the relatives from Ohio also live here in southern Virginia (long story) but it was supposed to be 14 yesterday morning. That’s extremely unusual here.

    • Lisa

      Gotcha. That is pretty cold for southern Virginia (from what I understand).

      I’ll admit, I’m less than tolerant about how snow removal issues-essentially growing up in Cleveland and Detroit, you get used to certain standards-but people who claim that the cold isn’t that bad drive me up a wall. It might not be that bad from what you are used to, but if the area isn’t used to it, it IS bad and therefore potentially dangerous. Same holds true for heat. But you understand that, so I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Sorry-rant over.

      Sorry the Ohio relatives were obnoxious about it. Stay safe and stay warm!

    • Muggle

      Sometime last year, a whole bunch of people in India died from cold temperatures they weren’t prepared for. How cold was it?

      50 degrees, which even here is quite mild.

      It’s really, really relative. I was really smug about Hurricane Sandy, then I remembered that I grew up along the Outer Banks and was used to category-1 hurricanes once a year… further north along the coast, most people aren’t because hurricanes have usually weakened into tropical storms or depressions by the time they get there.

    • Lisa

      Oy. You are so right-it’s all relative. Wish more people would remember that.

    • Sandy

      “Too damn dangerous to be outside.” Exactly. If it’s way outside the norm for an area, why not err on the side of safety? Why risk someone losing a finger or toe (or even just being incredibly miserable) because we’re a culture obsessed with being tough? People need to put themselves in the shoes of administrators. Would you like to have a horde of children on your hands when a bus breaks down, the pipes haven’t frozen yet but still may, teachers can’t make it to work because their cars won’t start and the same goes for the substitutes, etc? No way. Even without the threat of a lawsuit, wouldn’t it be the worst if you were the one to say, “Suck it up, kids, we’re having school!” and then one of them got hurt?

  • Zoe Lansing

    My dad is 66 and grew up in Massachusetts,where they are definitely used to cold winters.He remembers one year when school was canceled for a day due to unusually frigid temperatures.It was just too dangerous for kids who had to walk or stand outside waiting for the bus (which, if it was anything like the school bus I took in the early-to-mid 00s,probably rarely came on time).Just because something hasn’t happened during many of our lifetimes doesn’t mean it has never happened before.

  • Rachel Sea

    Even if people do have coats, this weather is creating road and sidewalk conditions that are out of the norm. Walking on ice and snow is a skill that kids living in normally temperate areas can not be expected to have. When I was 12, a 9 year old schoolmate fell into a snowdrift, and suffocated before she was found and pulled free. Maybe if we lived somewhere that snow was normal she would have known how to save herself, but she didn’t, so she died.

    • Zoe Lansing

      OMG!That’s horrifying!That poor little girl!

  • Sara

    In my area of Louisiana right now because of the dumbasses that control our heating/AC parts of my mom’s school has heating, part of it has the air conditioner on, and part of it is leaking water. And they still have school. In the freezing. With the air conditioner running. Which sucks.

  • ELK

    I grew up in a suburb of Buffalo, NY. My school district was always the last to close and it always closed because of the cold. It was very rare to have snow days, because we have fantastic snow removal in Buffalo and it’s not usually an issue. We had a wind chill warning and a blizzard warning yesterday. In some places, our wind chill was -35 degrees. My work ended up being closed (it was in the city, surrounded by suburbs that had driving bans), but before it closed I called in because I’m not taking my three month old out when the wind chill is -25 degrees at my house. She’s only going from the house to the car and the car to my mom’s house, but that’s too cold for her. I can’t imagine anyone having their kids going to school when it’s that cold. I lived in a wealthy suburb growing up and we closed because of the cold — even though we had appropriate clothing, we still had to wait at the bus stop.

  • Blueathena623

    I’m from the south, so every person on my Facebook is complaining about the cold (although not about school). As one school administrator posted, the reasons for canceling school are many:
    Kids can’t afford winter clothes or they just flat out don’t have any cause Georgia doesn’t see a lot of single digit cold.
    Our buses are not equipped for the cold. No heaters and something about the brake fluid.
    The school buildings are not built using the same code as schools in colder areas, so they harder to heat in this weather. I don’t know the specifics of that, but I can say that heat pumps are very common down here and they SUCK in really cold weather. Super in temps above 35, 40, but they struggle like hell in colder weather.

    • Paul White

      Yep. It’s one thing in places that regularly see sub zero weather. In places that hardly dip below freezing? Whole different story.

  • Natasha B

    We live in MN, so yes, used to the cold. BUT the windchills were 50 below. Exposed flesh can freeze in 10min. All I could think of was all the kids downtown who walk! No way! Much safer to keep them home.
    That said, Tuesday I bundled the monsters up and let them run wild at an indoor park all day.

  • JustaGuest

    I’m in Ohio. It was -13 with a windchill of -40 here on Monday. I had to clear ice off of my car to get my husband home from the hospital (where he had been for 3 days, and I’d been for about the previous 24 hours.) It was dangerous here and, no, we’re not used to it in this part of the midwest. Windchills of -15, maybe, at our coldest. Not windchills of -40. This is insanely cold.

    • Zoe Lansing

      I hope you husband’s doing better!

  • brebay

    They must not have seen the episode where the kids got stuck in a blizzard on the way home and a couple (not the stars, obvs) died.

    • Zoe Lansing

      For a “family” show aimed mainly at kids,a hell of a lot of people died in horrific ways on that show!Remember the wagon accident that killed James & Cassandra’s parents in front of them?The fire at the blind school that killed Alice and Adam and Mary’s infant son?The fall that killed Albert’s girlfriend Sylvia?And those are just the tragic deaths that I can think of off of the top of my head after not having seen the show in about 15 years and I’m not even including all the people who died of illnesses/natural causes!Yikes!

  • C.J.

    I live in Southern Ontario. Not too far from Michigan and Ohio. This was not normal cold. We haven’t seen cold like this in 20 years. It only happens every couple decades. Skin can freeze in 5 minutes in -40 with the wind chill. We were actually colder than the south pole and only 6 degrees Celsius warmer than the north pole. We had the opposite reaction. Many people thought our schools should have been closed but they remained open. Buses were cancelled, that’s it. Most people didn’t send their kids to school. Teachers had to drive in weather that no one should be driving in to not teach since there were so few kids at school. Many other districts closed their schools. Many of the older schools had their heater breaking. Pipes were freezing. People on the roads by the lake were snowed in because the plows couldn’t keep up with all the blowing snow. We had 5 and 6 foot high drifts on some roads. I have a friend that works at a local towing company. They were 200 calls behind and were turning away anything that wasn’t an emergency. If you went out and got stuck your car has to stay there until the roads are clear and the emergencies are all taken car of. My husbands drives truck and he still had to work. The wind caught the bug deflector on his truck the wrong way on the highway yesterday and ripped the whole grill off. He said there were cars in ditches everywhere. I think anything that wasn’t an essential service should have been shut down and everyone should have stayed off the roads, not so much because it snowed, because the winds were so bad the plows couldn’t keep the roads clear and visibility was almost non-existent is some areas. We are used to cold and snow and ice but this was extreme. Sorry, didn’t mean for this to end up so long.

    • pixie

      I flew into Pearson the night of the really big ice storm in December. I saw so many people spin out while I was being driven home on the 401. The next morning, police were telling people to not leave their houses unless absolutely necessary and to not bring gas generators or barbecues into their homes (not having heat or ability to cook because of no power really sucks, but dying sucks more), but people still did and a few died from carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s frustrating that people don’t listen. I wish business owners, school boards, and people in general would use common sense a little more and see that when it gets really bad, like what you described, it’s a risk even for employees, teachers, etc to go out onto the roads that they don’t need to take. It’s like people are constantly trying to out-Canadian each other.

    • C.J.

      Glad you made it home safely, from what I saw on the news it looked really bad.

  • Shelly Lloyd

    I’m pissed because I live in Fl and we didn’t close our schools. J/K guys don’t crucify me for being a horrid parent. Crucify me for not having to shovel snow, not having to worry about pipes busting or it being too cold for the car to crank up. It is going to warm up to the 70′s today. If I didn’t have a doctor’s appointment today I would go to the beach. Ok, you can crucify me for that last statement.

  • Jessie

    I think San Diego, California missed the memo on this Polar Vortex thing because it’s still in the mid-to-high 70′s out here. The lowest I’ve seen in like 40, at night, but that happens every winter here.

    As for schools closing, I see nothing wrong with it. My high school sometimes closed for what we called “heat days” because we didn’t have a/c in most classrooms and it was simply too hot for them to feel okay with keeping us there. A school closing in response to extreme cold temperatures seems like the same thing to me, it keeps the kids safe from weather-induced harm like hypothermia (or in my case, hyperthermia) and whatnot.

    • AE Vorro

      Same here. I’m in the Bay Area and it’s not cold here (well, it’s never actually cold here at all in any way, shape, or form). I think only the higher elevations in this state were affected.

  • LiteBrite

    I’ve come to the conclusion that schools can’t do anything right. They close due to inclement weather; people are up in arms. But if they had stayed open; people would’ve been up in arms about **that.” If you’re a school, you’re damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

    Here in Wisconsin, the high temperature on Monday was -15, and that was without the wind chill. It wasn’t much better on Tuesday. Personally, I was glad the boy was home. I wouldn’t have wanted him in that weather for a second.

    Btw, if I never hear the words “Polar Vortex” again I will die a happy woman.

    • pixie

      I spent 4 years in Thunder Bay, Ontario (3 hours North of Duluth, MN). I thought I knew cold. I was wrong. This whole ridonkulously cold thing that’s going on is a whole lotta nope. I happy it’s starting to warm up a bit where I live now (got up to -11C today) and I didn’t actually have to go outside the days that it was really cold.

    • LiteBrite

      It was -9F when I left for work. By the time I got to work it was 3F, and when I left work my car thermometer read 26F. After the past few days, 26 felt positively balmy.

  • AE Vorro

    I can definitely sympathize with the conundrum that school closures place on working parents who depend on school and after-school programs to get to their jobs. Last-minute babysitters seem hard to come by and not everyone has family to help carry the load.