CMS made an encouraging call on snow closings. How’d it work out?

CMS took a new approach to the old problem of when to close schools because of snow and ice.
CMS took a new approach to the old problem of when to close schools because of snow and ice. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

We’ve made a couple of additions lately to the list of jobs we’d rather not have: chief of staff for the U.S. president (at least for now) and whoever gets to decide if the weather is bad enough to close your child’s school.

The latter job might be the most thankless of all. Need evidence? Take a look at the comments on social media whenever Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announces if school has been canceled. When CMS posts that school is on, students rush to catalog all the broken limbs and dented fenders that surely will follow as they venture into the winter hellscape. When school is out, it’s the parents’ turn to gripe about the chaos inflicted upon their schedules despite the bone-dry roads outside their door.

So let’s take a moment this week to applaud CMS officials and Superintendent Clayton Wilcox for trying a new approach to snow days in the wake of winter storm Diego. Instead of closing all schools Tuesday when only some roads were deemed unsafe, as CMS has previously done, the district decided to close only 35 of its 175 schools. Most of those were in northern Mecklenburg, where roads and parking lots were still dicey.

CMS was careful to say Tuesday that the new approach was not, in fact, a new policy. But it’s a move that makes sense in a geographically large district that regularly experiences different weather conditions from the same winter storm. It’s also an approach parents have long clamored for, especially those who work and need to find and pay for child care when school is suddenly called off. Teachers also rue school cancellations, which can result in lost instruction time for first semester classes when makeup days aren’t scheduled until the second semester.

A bonus consideration: The flexible school closing approach gives parents one less reason to call for splitting CMS up. Similar conversations have plagued Wake County Schools, to the point where the district posted a pointed Twitter thread about school closings Sunday explaining how breaking up the system would result in segregated schools that are “bad for students and bad for our community.”

Despite all that, closing only some schools for weather presents transportation challenges and other concerns for large districts. That includes teachers and staffers who often don’t live near the schools where they work and might have to navigate bad roads to get there.

So how did it go Tuesday? CMS communications chief Tracy Russ told the editorial board Wednesday that there were only some minor hiccups, including a bus backing into a car that likely was not weather related. “Overall it went well, especially given that we have not done this before,” Russ said.

The results are encouraging enough for CMS staff and Wilcox to put together some school closing options for the school board to consider down the road. “I don’t want to make it sound like ‘Yeah, we got it down,’ “ Russ said. “But it put some meat on the bones of an idea.”

That’s a good thing. It might not cut down on the social media grumbling, but it’s the kind of flexibility CMS families should appreciate.