Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has a reputation of being a black box.
Somewhere in the government center, decisions get made on the administration of our county’s schools. But trying to get information on any of this is nearly impossible. Trust me, I’ve tried — both as a reporter and a parent.
That’s probably why there’s always such a commotion whenever CMS closes schools ahead of a weather event. Most recently, this came up before and after the two significant tropical storms that rolled through Charlotte. Both included cancellation of several days of classes, even with sunny skies.
These decisions get made often at the last minute and often with little explanation for why.
Here’s my potential solution: Let’s open up the decision-making process on closing down schools. The Board of Education should debate, approve and publish a policy on when this will be done.
This isn’t just about rich parents being inconvenienced.
CMS leaders have hit back hard against criticism for weather-related school closures. They’ve attacked critics as not caring about student safety or whining about being inconvenienced.
Let’s dispel those myths.
The school system itself acknowledges that their campuses are often refuges for students. Thousands of students are homeless or have troubled home situations. Tens of thousands more rely in the public school for their meals. Oftentimes, the public school is the safest place that child can be.
Both affluent and low-income families have built their schedules around a predictable school day. While some parents are lucky enough to have flexible schedules and can take a day off when school is unexpectedly canceled — many are not.
A sudden day off could mean lost wages for a parent or, in extreme cases, loss of a job. Some children undoubtedly are saved the danger of an hour on the school bus in favor of many more hours trailing their parents as they commute from job to job.
Current CMS policies are overly vague and most likely not followed.
There’s little in the way of policies for canceling school. It’s mostly up to the superintendent’s discretion.
Here’s all we have: “Occasionally, inclement weather conditions created by snow or other storms may make it difficult for employees to get to work. The Board of Education, however, makes every effort to remain operational in case of poor weather and will not be closed due to such conditions unless employees have obtained information to the contrary.”
The rest of the severe weather policies have to do with communicating the decision and whether after-school activities will still be held.
In practice, CMS seems to have gone in the opposite direction, erring on the side of closing down schools. They’ve also canceled classes for the entire district when a small number of schools are not operational rather than just close those campuses.
There’s plenty of room for a more rigorous policy that governs when the superintendent will cancel school for weather.
Yes, we should cancel school when the weather is severely dangerous.
So let’s talk about the guidelines.
Perhaps the policy should be that if a hurricane warning has been issued, schools will be closed.
Perhaps it should state that if more than one-third of campuses require significant cleanup, the district will cancel school for everyone.
Let’s just have a little transparency.