My second and greatest concern is safety. If weather conditions are bad enough to expose children to serious risk, the schools should close. Anyone driving around Kokomo can see many sidewalks are still impassible.
My third concern is fairness. Imposing financial penalties on public school corporations only hurts children. Why should they be punished for a decision their elders made?
Of course, the fines won’t really hurt children. They’re not intended to. They are simply a way to force school corporations to make up missed days by extending the school year.
My fourth concern is effectiveness. Those makeup days aren’t completely useless, but I can’t say they accomplish much, either. Shortening mid-year breaks, canceling holidays, having school on Saturdays and adding extra days at the end of the year yield very poor attendance. That’s why so many teachers show movies and assign busy work then. The mission of public schools is to teach every child. You can’t teach anything new and significant when half of your students are absent.
My fifth concern is health. There are times when canceling a few school days can limit the spread of contagious illness, keep kids healthy and actually reduce total absences. My first principal’s job was in a small nonpublic high school. A physician, whose son attended the school, informed me most of our students were his patients. He told me he was treating a lot more of them for flu than usual. He suggested closing the school on the days before and after the next weekend to keep students apart longer and limit contagion. We did that and attendance improved significantly.
My final concern is high-quality teaching and learning. Teachers must use all available time to give students the best possible learning opportunities. We should compensate for instructional time missed due to weather. However, that requires more than merely adding days to the school year. We must also find ways to make better use of those days. What worries me most is that we aren’t seeking better compensatory teaching methods and training educators to use them.
Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana school principal and teacher.