EducationPop QuizUncategorized

Pop Quiz: Brrrr…It’s too cold outside! Keep those students at home!?

Most of the United States is having one of the worst winters in years. Even as I type this it is in the negative digits where I live and the wind chill is bitingly bad. Also, because of these ridiculous temperatures every school in the area, including major universities and colleges, are closed for the day.

Around the midwest, closing schools for inclement weather is generally not a bad idea. Sometimes we get so much snow and ice that conditions are extremely dangerous outside. This year is a bit extreme in my area there are schools who have had maybe a total of three days back to class since Christmas break. For K-12 this means that those days must be made up at the end of the school year. So this year summer vacation time is going to be shorter for some. However, for higher education days off do not get made up and this means that some material does not get presented to the students or will be glossed over very quickly to get back on track. So to cancel class the weather has to be pretty lousy.

Yesterday, class was in session at my college and the roads were horrible in the morning. I had students who were late (understandable) and some that just decided it was not worth it (understandable.)  It took me almost three times as long to drive to work as usual but I made it there.  On the way home, the roads were fine.  So I was a little shocked last night when all of the universities and colleges in the area were announcing their closures for today.  Granted it is so cold I have a wall of icicles 3 feet long blocking my back door but it did not snow last night and the roads were pretty clear.  So I suspect that most of the students probably could have gotten to class.

It is funny but I seem to remember when I was young that I trudged uphill in 5 feet of snow in shockingly cold weather to get to school. I do not remember having days off because of temperature.  I only remember having no school for an ice storm or snow storm.  I even remember spinning out on a major highway during an ice storm on my way back home from one of my classes in college.

So, this Fridays pop quiz:  Do you think institutions of higher education or K-12 should shutdown for just cold weather? Should the policies for shutting school during cold weather be different for K-12 than higher education?

* I want to thank PZ Myers at Pharyngula for writing a similar post and giving me the idea for this Fridays pop quiz.

** Also, read Tori Parker’s thoughts on snow days in an earlier post from this year.

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).

Featured image: Knickerbocker Snowstorm, author unknown.


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JoDee is an adjunct faculty instructor of astronomy and physics at various colleges around her hometown in the midwest. When she is not trying to get her cat, Pixel, off of her laptop she is observing variable stars and researching black holes.


  1. January 31, 2014 at 6:01 pm —

    I think a lot of it comes down to what the infrastructure can handle and the burden of care.

    For infrastructure: If you are not used to shockingly cold weather you might not be able to get the buses running, diesel is a fickle mistress in the cold. My building has modular classrooms (trailers) and the wind can just whip right through them. This year we had pipes freeze and burst. So if the infrastructure cannot handle it, and the buildings cannot be maintained at a reasonable temperature then yes, any school should be closed.

    For burden of care: there is an inherent difference between the care needed for a minor and care needed for a legal adult. I often say when I’m telling my students not to do something like pick up broken glass that if I cut myself it is my fault, if you cut yourself it is my fault because you are minor in my care. So I think there should be greater caution when it comes to k-12.

  2. January 31, 2014 at 10:49 pm —

    Yeah, those of us in cold climates can sometimes be a bit too cavalier and dismissive about this sort of thing when it happens in areas not used to “real winter.” The fact is, we do have plows and salt and sand and snow tires and trucks to cart everything away and the system actually works (by and large…provided the plow drivers’ union isn’t out of hours for the month). Without all of that we’d just be sunk (or going back to horse-drawn sleds).

  3. February 1, 2014 at 10:36 am —

    I understand K-12 having greater cautionary measures but I really don’t understand what the criteria for colleges. I swear they all look to see who is going to close first and then just follow suit. The day I wrote about was very cold but the following day was just as cold but school was in session. Now we have missed 2 full lectures for the year ( a previous shut down occurred) and we are scrambling to figure out how to get all the material in for the semester. I think that for my area we should have this worked out better since it is not uncommon to have snow and cold.

  4. February 3, 2014 at 10:20 pm —

    I second the mention of infrastructure issues. The first time my university closed for snow in its (then 125-year) history, it was at the request of the governor. Because of the effect of an unusual amount of ice and snow on power lines, the electric grid was in such bad shape that utilities had concerns about brownouts and wanted to focus on getting energy to vital services.

    Meanwhile, I live in an area where you can’t go more than a few miles without passing over a body of water. The interstate west of me is basically 50 miles of bridge passing over marshes. Because bridges freeze faster and because jurisdictions have no winter weather supplies, when sleet and snow was expected last week, everything shut down.

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