Facebook pages were full of parental complaints early on Friday, January 22, when there was no sign of the incoming winter storm at the normal time for their children to go to school, either by school bus or personal vehicles. Comments were, for the most part, how stupid, crazy, inane, ludicrous, disgusting (pick the term of your choice – these were the nicer ones) it was for their children to be at home on such a beautiful day. By noon, one would have expected to see some thanks to Suffolk Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney, and his staff, for making the call early enough on Thursday that parents could make provisions for their children the next day. That was not the case.
It may surprise parents, and other interested parties, to learn that the top priority for school administrators is not to ensure children are in school in order to receive a quality education; rather, their number one job is to keep the students which have been entrusted to them safe. Who can deny that students would be unable to learn if not in safe environments? However, the awesome responsibility of keeping students safe does not start at the schoolhouse door – it begins as soon as students get on the road to travel to school, no matter whether or not they are traveling in school buses.
In the particular case of Suffolk Public Schools, Superintendent Deran Whitney and his staff spearhead the safety and education of approximately 15,000 students who attend schools across Suffolk City’s expansive 403 square mile borders. At any given time, the weather can be fine in one part of the city while snow is flooding down in others. Perhaps some forget that the City of Suffolk borders North Carolina, Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, Portsmouth and Chesapeake. Others may not realize that the City of Suffolk also has miles and miles and miles of back roads that do not benefit from the melting rays of the sun due to trees overhanging the roads from either side. Back roads are often barely wide enough for two cars to meet from opposite directions, much less a school bus and a large vehicle, on the driest of days, There is nowhere for either to pull over should drivers come upon slick road conditions while meeting other vehicles. Further, black ice is almost impossible to see in advance.
Most bus drivers are up at 5:00 a.m. in order to conduct pre-route checks of their buses. Getting a call about the closing of school the night before saves them from having to be out in the dark during freezing conditions only to be told to cut the bus off and go back to the house – or, as has happened occasionally in the past, have to turn around and go home. Just from a savings factor, not starting hundreds of buses while waiting to hear if school is in or out has the potential to save lots of diesel costs. Further, children are not waiting at bus stops waiting for a bus that may or may not come if said students’ parents have already gone to work.
Kudos to Superintendent Whitney and his staff for weighing all the options, then opting for the safety of students and staff over all else. School days can be made up – but the trauma of losing a loved one in an accident that could have been avoided, cannot.