Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why #closeFCPS Is Important

Yes, it's been awhile. In fact, the last time I wrote a blog it was about 60 degrees warmer than it is right now. Sixty degrees warmer, definitely sunnier, and most importantly - summertime. The last time I wrote, my son and I were eagerly awaiting the school year to start. OK, I was eagerly awaiting the new school year. My son was more than a bit nervous.

Oh, how much things have changed in just 4 or so months!

In case you missed it, today was the day my county screwed up royally. Or, as we say today - EPIC fail. To be honest, Fairfax County wasn't the only county to have it's collective heads up their asses. All the Northern VA counties as well as one or two Maryland counties and the District of Columbia (aka Washington, DC) chose to ignore some very smart people and pretend that the snowstorm barreling down on us would present with what we call a doughnut hole in these parts. Well, that's what happened last year, right? So it had to happen again this year!

How wrong can so many supposedly smart people be? It turns out they can be very, very, very wrong.

Here's a little background.

Last school year, 2013-2014, Fairfax County cancelled school a lot. They cancelled for the threat of snow (note - doughnuts, aka snow falling all around us but not falling in the DMV). They cancelled because it was cold. Granted, it was colder than I have ever experienced here in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia area), but still - canceling for cold was a bit odd. They canceled school so often that school went on through the first session of camps, and camps started in the middle of June. The official last day of school for 2013-2014 was June 25, 2014. We had a total of 11 canceled school days - more than I can remember in the 30+ years I have been involved with FCPS as a student, a teacher or a parent. That was more than a little frustrating. 

Fast forward to this school year. Fairfax County has changed the callendar so we won't have make up days. We also lose our 1/2 day Mondays for Elementery students. Don't get me wrong - there weren't many people who wanted to lose the 1/2 day Mondays for the Elementary kids, but if doing so meant we had more snow days then hey! 

Today was the perfect day to test the new theory. Nathional Weather Service, all the DMV TV weather personalities, and all online and radio weather reports said the same things. First it would get really cold, then there would be snow smack in the middle of rush hour that wouldn't stop until after 12 noon. The first report said 1"-2", but at about 4AM or so, NWS and all the weather reporters in the DC area changed from basically a dusting to a much more significant event. 

You see, around here whre we don't travel with chains in the back of our cars, or have standard snow kits including ice scrappers, anti-freeze, window washer fluid, blankets and extra food stored for the just in case day when you might just need it because youre sitting with your two left wheels in a ditch. The most we might do is hit the grocery store to get Milk, Eggs and OJ the night before the snow hits. That's what winter prep means here. 

But Fairfax County had other ideas. I was not in the room so I don't know what was said to make so very many smart people think that all those other really smart people didn't know what they were talking about. I can only think that they decided to have the meeting at, say, 2AM or 3AM, listen to VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) tell them that the roads had been pretreated and that it was just going to be a dusting anyway so why bother. They made the call, then they went to bed. 

Wow, were they wrong!

By the time I took my son to school, noting that we are one of the last schools to start in the morning, the roads were a mess. Big snow flakes were coming down on a diagonal, quickly, and sticking to every flat surface. I drove from my house to the next street, from drive way to the other road it's about 1/8 of a mile if that, mostly because I am still in a boot for my poor, maligned ankle. That drive didn't take very long, I have a car that's great in snow, but it was not an easy drive. We then got out of the car and walked the rest of the way. I can honestly say that the 5 minutes it took to walk from the car to the school were some of the most difficult I have done in years. Half mile visibility, snow falling fast and furious, tempurature dropping quickly. And once we got there, we found out that teachers were having just as much trouble getting to school as we were. But at least we got there, right? Our trip didn't sound so bad.

Around the DMV that is not the case. Between accidents caused by busses, other accidents caused by people driving to the schools, and walkers falling hard on the ice because streets weren't plowed and sidewalks/paths weren't salted or shoveled there are enough children who suffered injuries today to start a pretty big club. 

Then some engineering teen created the hashtag #closeFCPS and it took off. By the time the teens were in school, it was too late to turn too many people around and I am sure they didn't want to put everyone back on the roads who had just come off - but they could have closed down schools that hadn't started receiving students yet and slowly gotten the rest of the students home over time. So, #closeFCPS would never work in any way other than letting people know what was going on. 

I would have preferred #FCPSFail, because that's what happened. Fairfax County Failed. The schools opened, sure, but the number of students, staff, teachers, and administrators who were put in danger because someone in Fairfax County didn't want to listen to the forecasters and believe them is a complete failure, one I am beyond surprised they made. 

There good news from this, believe it or not. Good news does exist. Tomorrow, the day after the snow storm, is our first day of Artic weather. It is currently 16 degrees outside, a good 6 degrees below forecasted temps for this time of night, This tells me we may or may not actually make it to 20 degrees tomorrow. So, it's a good thing that Fairfax County has decided to delay opening for 2 hours. That's a good first step. Hopefully, as we have more Artic air this week, Fairfax County decides to be smart and either delays or closes school as warrented. 

They just have to remember that the Northern VA area is not used to winters as wintery as this. We don't keep chains in the car, but I'm beginning to think we might have to. But if we have to start carrying chains, then VDOT needs to start behaving appropriately and the County needs to start taking care of all the sidewalks and paths leading to school. 

But to be honest, right now I'd settle for good calls at least 90% of the time when it comes to deciding if we need school or not. 

As most of the country is gripped in this lovely Alberta Clipper like we are down here, I hope you are stayiing dry and warm wherever you are!

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