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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014

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In Kids & Family

Should schools stay open during cold weather?

Local parents struggle with school closings


For Michelle Roberts, the school closings for cold weather this month have been complicated in multiple ways. First and foremost, as a single mom, it meant trying to figure out what to do with her son, who is 9, while she went to work.

"I have three personal days, but I was hesitant to use them all up in three weeks. What will I do if I have a personal issue – or there are more school closings – the rest of the year?" she says.

Roberts cobbled together a plan for two of the days which included leaving her son in the care of a friend's mom. She also hired a babysitter for half of a day and took a personal day.

"In the end, we got through it, but what a stresser," she says.

The issue is even more complicated for Roberts, and many parents in her situation, because her son takes a bus to his Milwaukee public school.

"I don't want him – or me – to have to wait for the bus on these really cold days. It's really difficult to cover all of his skin. It's not like he has a snowsuit and a ski-mask. Although maybe I should get them," she says, laughing.

She says waiting for the bus in the cold is simply a reality for kids and parents who cannot drive to school.

"Honestly, if you're waiting in 10-degree weather or -2-degree weather it's equally as unpleasant," says Roberts. "Luckily, our bus is usually on time. But we still end up waiting for at least a few minutes every day because we tend to get there a tad early so (the driver) doesn't have to wait."

For Natali Huess, whose daughters attend the School District of Menomonee Falls, it's an issue of the timing of the call reporting that schools will be closed.

"At 5:15 on Monday morning, I was awoken by a call that school would be closed on Tuesday, as well. They could have maybe waited until 8 a.m. or so for that," says Huess. "But they also sent out updates via email letting us know when they would be making the decision."

Extremely cold weather days can be tough on stay-at-home parents or homeschooling parents, too. Erin Linane homeschools her 13-year-old son and she makes sure she has alternatives to the normal school day when they are stuck indoors.

"When we get cabin fever, we put the books away and do an art project, karate video, baking or some kind of hands-on thing," she says. "This week I am looking for some kind of liquid to solid experiment. Or what happens when you apply heat to a popcorn kernel and add butter."

Abigail Fowler, whose two children attend a school in the Shorewood School District, says the days off include productive events like baking and even a little outdoor time, but also a lot of screen time.

"I know, I know," says Fowler, acknowledging the pitfalls of "too much screen time."

Huess says she tries to make the "snows days" or "cold days" fun for everyone by having "theme days."

"We tend to have a couple of standbys when the weather is bad and we're stuck inside. Sometimes we embrace it by putting on Christmas movies, drinking cocoa and having a board game marathon. Sometimes we do the opposite – wear summer clothes, picnic inside, play beach ball inside. Today we're doing a Wii Sports Olympics and some crafting. Theme days tend to be a big hit no matter what the weather is like," she says.

And for some parents, schools closing due to inclement weather can mean loss of much-needed pay or even termination. Mandy Larson (not her real last name) works for a fast food establishment on the near South Side and says she received a warning from her shift manager for calling in on Sunday night when she learned her daughter's school would not be open the next day.

"If I don't show up for work, I don't get paid. I don't understand why I have to get a 'warning' too," says Larson. "My mom is in the hospital and cannot help me with (my daughter) right now."

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