Why kids get caught in snowstorms


As a parent, two things caught my eye this week. The first was a letter from our kids’ school. The second was a story on the front page of last week’s paper. Both were about snow.

The principal’s letter outlined the new protocols for school closures in inclement weather. Parents were advised that closures would be communicated via “talk-mail” and e-mail, with instructions on how to access our talk-mail remotely. The instructions were pretty clear.

The front-page newspaper story was the darker side of the story. It was about the two kids near Blacks Harbour who were let off the school bus to walk home in the middle of a snowstorm because the bus couldn’t get up the road to their house. The kids walked to a neighbour’s house a kilometer up the road and called their parents from there. The problem was, neither the school nor the bus driver called to notify the parents. But all’s well that ends well; a white knight with a four-wheel drive managed to bring the kids home.

Despite all the protocols, when storms hit things can go wrong. I wondered. What could we do to make things safer? I tried to remember my own childhood.

As far as I can recall there were fewer school closures back then—and this in Northern Ontario with severe winter storms. Most of us walked to school, and through some particularly nasty, face-and-toe-freezing blizzards. So why was it that none of us perished? I don’t know.

Frankly, how we deal with kids in snowstorms is symptomatic of how societies function. It’s clear from school bulletins and newspaper stories that our school system has taken on more responsibility for child-care in our society. The roles of parents, teachers and school administrators have obviously changed over the last 50 years.

In fact the entire fabric of society has changed. Most parents are no longer home during the day, for one thing. Stay-at-home parents are now in the minority. Two-income families and single-parent families are now the norm. Today, many parents plan tight schedules around their work to accommodate their children—meeting them just as they get off the bus. Unforeseen events such as snowstorms can play havoc with these finely tuned schedules.

Finances have conspired to make these tight schedules possible. In a post-production, managerial-consumer society, working mothers are a key component of the modern workforce. Women carry a disproportionate load in the management and clerical functioning of an economy dominated by the service sector. Ironically, as more women entered the workforce prices rose as wages plateaued, leaving family disposable income at much the same levels as it was when it was the single-income family predominated. In short, more of us work—because we have to, just to keep up.

Governments are also financially challenged. As corporations went global and regions became increasingly competitive, tax bases shrank, putting pressure on governments everywhere to cut services. This, of course, resulted in fewer but larger—theoretically more efficient—schools.

Technology made these changes possible. As kids my friends and I walked to school. Schools then were built close to home. Today, kids are bused to and from school, eliminating the distance factor. Students can arrive from 25 kilometers away with little difficulty. And instead of relying on one parent to be home, telecommunications such as cell-phones, voice mail and e-mail have allowed parents and schools to build complex schedules to handle the students.

These school schedules may at first seem to be a parochial issue, they’re not. They reflect the shifting responsibilities that come with global change. Not only are out children more professionally managed, there are fewer of them per family. That means that the future of each family is increasingly focused on the safety of just one or two children, the family’s most precious resources.

Though there are exceptions, it’s no longer the norm for older brothers and sisters to look after the younger ones. Nor is it the norm for grandparents, aunts and uncles worked together as a cooperative to raise a family clan.

As children grow up and move away from home for new opportunities elsewhere, families have become less attached to specific pieces of geography than at any other time in history. Increasingly, we are trained specialists relocating to where our specialty is required. As professionals we rely on other professionals—not family members—to help us raise our kids.

These more highly structured social mechanisms—the outcome of globalization and technology—are more fragile than earlier, more resilient family-based systems. As much as professional systems aim to protect our quality of life, no professional system can replace a tightly-knit community of family and friends.

So in the end, we’re on our own. As the school district’s letter concludes, “Ultimately, parents have the final decision in inclement weather conditions.” And, they might add, in any other matter that might affect our family’s future.


  1. From Southern California a suggestion.
    Not about kids and snowstorms, obviously.
    Rather about children and “neighborhoud” after-school programs.
    My little 'hood' called Silverlake in Los Angeles has inniciated a program that allows children to spend the afternoon at our neighborhood library for a reading and homework program. The program is supervised and directed entirely by volunteers, (stay-at-home parents and people retired). Parents collect the kids after work. The kids love the program, neighbors are delighted that the children are not loitering after school, and parents are less stressed. Change can happen with an interested and involved neighborhood.

  2. Ms. E, I love that idea. I'll float that by the local elementary school principal. Not only is it a great idea for snowstorms/inclement weather, it's perfect for improving literacy skills—away from the ubiquitous flat screens and remote controllers.

    Sound like you have a nice ’hood... Cheers!

  3. i was one of thoses kids really there was 4 of us not 2 the knight was my dad i was 9 when that happened now im turing 11


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