Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Snow Day?

I promise, this is not a rant that is intended to gin up sympathy for its author. No indeed.

But here are the facts: it’s snowing. Hard. In the beautiful city of Worcester, Massachusetts, the snowflakes are falling at a rate of just about an inch and a half an hour, by my admittedly non-ruler-based calculations. How I know this: I shoveled out my driveway at 7 this morning, just before getting in the car and driving to the school at which I teach. We were scheduled to have a professional development day today. Due to a snafu that I probably helped with, by failing to doublecheck with my school administration to make sure that I was on their phone-callin’ list, I didn’ot find out until I got there at 7:40, so I turned around and drove home. Made it back home by about 8:40. I shoveled the driveway again at 8:45 and the stuff had piled up about three inches high, so, you know, math.

That’s not what I’m ranting about. No indeed. In fact, today I discovered just how well my relatively new car does in the snow: quite well. I saw a minor near-spinout as I was driving, and it did not involve me. So okay.

It was tough sledding by 8 o’clock, at least in my neck of the woods … and based on the weather radar maps on the teevee and Intertubes and such, probably most everywhere else in eastern Massachusetts. Back roads: worse and worse as the morning went on (particularly the road that passes my school, which I would characterize topographically as a Bobsled Run to start with). Major secondary roads: okay as long as you followed the tire tracks someone else laid down. Highways: well, getting stuck behind a phalanx of plows is an okay reason for going slow, in my book. But it was getting pretty thick out there.

Morning local teevee news broadcasts have had these bottom-of-the screen ticker things for years now. Usually they tell a viewer about one news story while the anchor goes on about something completely else (an innovation as the first Gulf War broke out – suddenly everyone wanted to make like the BBC). But today, it was school closings. Starting from 5 this morning, first 20, then 30, then 60, then over a hundred (and on one station’s website, exactly 443) schools, colleges and churches had posted cancellations or at least delayed openings. It’s New England. This is not unusual.

As I watched the ticker tick, I did my usual roll call of towns and the teaching friends of mine who were affected by the closings: “Amesbury – closed! Fred – roll over and go back to sleep!” “Southboro – closed! Amy – roll over and go back to sleep!” [Ed. note: The names and towns have been changed to protect the sleepy.]


So far, this is not what the rant is about.

This is:


I grew up in a small town located about 20 miles directly west of Boston. Ever since I was conscious of what town I lived in, I was aware that the school system in that town had a reputation – statewide – for hardly ever closing. An inch of snow? Not hard to get through. Two inches? Not that hard, really. We’re New Englanders, after all.

But the Superintendent at the time – whom I otherwise liked very much, and who was a former music teacher so what’s not to like?? – in fact, he was the leader of the all-town elementary school marching band during Memorial Day parades, so in a sense he was my first marching band director, at least in public – the Superintendent established a very high standard of Dumb Stupid Weather. It was rare indeed to have a snow day.

I have it on good authority that there was a class of third graders who had never ever in their whole student lives had a snow day – so upon returning to class the day after, they described how confused they were that their parents were telling them to go back to bed.

And one day, when most of the rest of the school districts in eastern Massachusetts looked at the weather maps and huffed, “huh! you wouldn’t catch me out in that stuff” – sure enough, the town of my upbringing held classes – and at the end of the school day, outside at least one elementary school was parked a Boston news station’s remote broadcast van. It was a genuine news item.

The successors to the Superintendent of my youth appear to have carried on this tradition.

So this morning, when I watched a ticker’s worth of cancellations… and then two… and then a bunch of them (at which point the alphabet took a long time to get through)… sure enough: my hometown was not amongst them. Most of the surrounding towns cancelled or at least delayed.

There are days when I wouldn’t want to be a Superintendent of Schools. Most days, actually. But particularly when the weather forecast says the snowstorm could go this way or that way, and if it’s this way, we’re up to our necks, and if it’s that way, golf may still be played in regular shoes. And if we have to go to school on the first of July because you guessed wrong, you get all kinds of flak.

Yesterday was one of those days. My school district didn’t cancel, and it was the right call. It looked iffy, but New Englanders can get around in the weather that was in place through about 4 o’clock that afternoon.

But seriously. That storm began yesterday, and every single forecast called for heavy snow all last night and much of today. When I arose at 5 am, I looked out the window and honestly blanched. Whew. Lotsa snow. And the National Weather Service radar map for my area had nothing but dark blue and dark green blobs all over it. Some schools delayed; some cancelled outright.

But not my hometown. Oh no. Seems like some days they work hard to not cancel school, on principle, or something. Must educate the children, at all costs.

If the weather in my hometown at 8 am was anything remotely like the weather in Worcester at 8 am, school buses full of elementary-school kids had no business being out on the roads. None whatever. Plows weren’t keeping up with the snowfall; driving conditions were deteriorating; the visibility was down to a tenth of a mile in most places. On top of which, there are a lot of teachers who drive very long distances to teach in that town. I know one of them very very well.

I’m willing to go on the record and suggest that if my hometown’s school administration is waiting for a school bus to slide down an embankment and kill a kid or two or a few, before they are inspired to re-think their school-closing policy – then they may richly deserve whatever civil or criminal lawsuits would doubtless result, in the aftermath.


At all costs? On a morning like this, we could be playing with people’s lives here.


March 8, 2013 - Posted by | education, travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Rob: Tradition rules in Wayland. It is a stupid and dangerous tradition-always was. I can’t count the number of exhaust systems, minor accidents and white-knuckle drives I had.

    Comment by Joe McCoy | March 8, 2013 | Reply

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